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Restaurant and retail owners have 2 options nowadays: stop treating their workers like garbage or stop having workers at all

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16.05.2021

Sean Earl is a 10-year veteran of the restaurant business who was out of a job when the coronavirus pandemic hit. He still doesn't know if he'll return to the industry — especially without the promise of worker protections and better conditions on the job.

"If I returned it would have to be somewhere with union representation or at least a co-op situation," Earl said. "Some way of having better control over what happens in the workplace."

I talked to Earl this week for a story highlighting the voices of service industry workers at my newsletter The Flashpoint. The piece pushed back against a number of recent articles featuring business owners blaming unemployment insurance and government aid for contributing to laziness on the part of staff to not return to their jobs.

Over and over again, the people I talked to told me that while the aid provided security and support at a crucial time, they weren't passing up work just to sit around. Rather, they were looking at other options because of the service industry's terrible working conditions and low pay.

"The pandemic kind of stripped away the illusion of fairness and equity in the industry," said Sarah, a restaurant professional who is on her way out of the business and off to grad school.

One of the first casualties of the pandemic last year was the service industry. With businesses forced to shut down due to health restrictions and few people willing to risk going out anyway, restaurants shuttered around the country and prepared to wait out the disease.

Stimulus and aid packages passed by the federal government under both former President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden delivered relief. In addition to aid for businesses, programs like the $600 weekly bonus COVID unemployment payments that came with the first stimulus were a huge help to workers forced out of their jobs by the shutdown.

It is true that for some service industry workers, what they made staying home was more than what they made at work. Indeed, that was part of the point of the pandemic aid; to keep people whole after losing their jobs to public health orders that were no........

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