Curfews Leave Restaurants Without a Plan

Since George Floyd died in police custody on March 25th, peaceful protests have broken out in every state across the country. As a result, at least forty cities including Washington D.C., Los Angeles and New York imposed daily curfews in an attempt to curb multiple protests in those areas. The unintended consequence is that restaurants and other businesses in those cities no longer know how and when they can operate under these new mandates.

In many states, restaurants only recently opened for full service anyway. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic threatened companies all over and forced restaurants, like every nonessential business, to close all operations except for those that they could carry out safely, for example takeout and delivery services. Atlanta, GA was one of the few states to take advantage of stay-at-home orders expiring in May, and they’ve had a month to adjust to reopening procedures but  nevertheless those services are still recent and the city as a whole is still getting used to dining out again. Many residents are still uncomfortable in public spaces and restaurants have still not gone back to normal, even a month later. L.A. County only gave the go-ahead to reopen full service restaurants on Friday, May 29th, right as the protests gained traction in L.A. The new curfews put undue strain on restaurants that are unaccustomed to reopening during the continued pandemic in the first place.

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These issues are further exacerbated by unclear stipulations from local governments which in turn makes it difficult for managers to create rules for their workers in accordance with the new directives. Furthermore these curfews also change rapidly, often and with no warning in a further attempt to make protests difficult to organize and attend. The arbitrary impositions give businesses very little notice or guidelines on how to operate under these conditions, particularly with regard to closing. Although restaurants are deemed essential workplaces and they, along with street vendors and similar businesses, have special permissions to operate after hours in certain circumstances, there’s little direction about differentiating food service workers from others on the street at night.

This all leads to confusing work shifts that often change suddenly. Each individual manager decides whether to close early and send employees home in time to beat curfew, and if they choose not to, they also determine how to keep their staff safe by properly differentiating them during their commute.

The lack of information is further exacerbated by workers not having access to outside sources during their shifts. Many in the hospitality industry have strict guidelines not to check or even carry their phones on them while on the clock, so they can’t see when emergency alerts come in and don’t know about the restrictions until they’re already off shift and breaking curfew. Their only source of information is their employers who aren’t always transparent about the emergency alerts and city regulations, and who don’t always choose to close early enough to get their staff home in time. Workers need to be informed so that they can make decisions about their personal health and safety.

Some employers feel like they have no other option except to close early or in some cases close entirely. This is the best way for some to handle the confusion and simultaneously protect their staff from any risks. For some, it’s not fiscally responsible to open if they can’t operate for a full workday, especially considering the continued threat of COVID-19 shrinking their customer base.

On top of that, restaurant workers aren’t receiving hazard pay—an issue that’s plagued essential businesses for months. Restaurant employees have campaigned for higher wages for since the COVID-19 pandemic began and threatened their health and safety every day they were at work. Now, they’re still risking their wellbeing; the risks associated with coronavirus haven’t abated despite restaurants opening to dine-in services and therefore increasing workers’ face-to-face contact with customers. Many workers are also staying past curfew but don’t get sufficient guarantee that they’ll be safe from arrest on their way home. Some even lose additional money if they rely on tips: One Pizza Hut employee in Huntington Park makes most of his money from tips, but an overload of delivery orders that came in right before curfew forced him to stay late helping box pizzas, thus sacrificing all of his tips and working for suboptimal wages.

Employees face further obstacles because cities close a lot of public transit at night to further stymie protests and make it difficult for citizens to attend or get home. This similarly affects essential employees in cities where a lot of the workforce relies on public transportation, since low-income people make up a large portion of the service industry. Even those with their own cars worry about road closures blocking the way to and from work, as well as about getting pulled over on their commutes. This is also a concern amongst delivery workers who fear profiling and arrest while on duty.  Immigrants and people of color make up a significant fraction of the service industry and they are also the ones most at risk of being stopped by police; if workers need government ID and to prove they’re an essential worker with license to stay out past curfew, they naturally fear being questioned on their way home. This concern is especially prevalent amongst undocumented immigrants who tend to work in the hospitality industry. Furthermore these employees are part of the communities most heavily affected by police brutality and they don’t want to risk any additional interaction that could get them hurt or even killed.

While restaurants and government officials alike continually tell the community to consider “safety first,” personal safety is impossible while essential questions remain unanswered. For example:

  • How can you determine if an employee is on their way to or from work?
  • Should restaurants close early to give their staff time to get home before curfew?
  • How many are inundated with delivery orders immediately after curfew is announced or right before they close? How should they handle these orders: Cancel on customers or find a way to ensure the safety of the employees who stay late?
  • Should workers, especially tipped workers who stay past curfew helping with other business operations, get hazard pay?
  • How can we safely handle and protect employees who need to come in during curfew to keep the store running during the day? For example stockers, inventory delivery workers and drivers that need to get home?

Until we answer these questions, curfews can’t safely continue. They’re meant to protect these cities but can’t do so effectively if they’re targeting citizens indiscriminately. We need clear and concise avenues to determine who is legally allowed on the streets after dark so as to ensure the continued protection of all citizens while simultaneously decreasing unethical profiling and harassment of lawful employees. Until we have such measures in place, we cannot effectively protect our local communities from police who will often open fire indiscriminately at anyone they see out on the streets after curfew, without asking questions first. Curfews cannot be lawfully and fairly enforced if restaurants demand workers stay late and the state doesn’t protect them on their way home. Local governments need to listen to the needs of business owners and formulate with a plan that will effectively protect the workers who continue to serve vulnerable communities in this time. Cities around the U.S. are now doubly fraught with clashes between protestors and police as well as the continued threat of COVID-19. We need clear procedures in place to ensure restaurant workers are equally protected as they carry out their essential business or else we risk harming the very people who serve our local communities.

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