Warren urges ‘essential, frontline’ recognition for restaurant workers in speech on May Day
The City Council skipped an opportunity to call restaurant staff “essential, frontline” workers in April, a message at odds with that of Cambridge’s U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
Warren spoke live to hundreds of participants, many of whom were restaurant workers, during the keynote to a digital rally held by the nonprofit Restaurant Opportunities Center United on Friday. Recognizing the event as occurring on International Workers Day, she spoke in support of restaurant worker safety and financial protections and referred to food service employees as “essential” and “frontline” workers.
“I want to talk about something you understand firsthand better than maybe anybody else in the country, and that is the importance of doing right by essential workers,” Warren said. “My view on this is we’ve discovered who’s essential in this economy, and it’s the people who keep us healthy and who keep us fed, and that means they’re out there on the frontline. If they’ve got our backs, everybody else in America should have their backs.”
She stressed use of the social media hashtag #StandWithEssentialWorkers.
Warren summarized the main points of the Essential Workers Bill of Rights she introduced with U.S. Rep. Ro Khanna, of California, in the U.S. Senate last month, focusing on safety and compensation. “It’s about the health of everyone who is still showing up to work,” which means having the necessary personal protective equipment, Warren said. “The employer has to furnish it, no cost to the employee, full protective gear, whatever is appropriate – masks, gowns, whatever it is that people need.”
On the economic front, Warren remarked that “workers who are still showing up to work right now … should get hazardous duty pay. They should get a bonus for being on the frontlines. In addition, they should get paid family leave and sick leave.”
The same day Warren introduced her legislation, April 13, the City Council rejected a motion to include restaurant staff as “essential, frontline” workers.
A policy order sponsored by vice mayor Alanna Mallon, councillors E. Denise Simmons and Marc McGovern and Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui asked the city manager “to confer with the Public Health Department to develop and implement stricter public health regulations to protect our essential frontline employees” and put the council on record as encouraging grocery stores “and other frontline essential businesses” to give their essential employees hazard pay during the Covid-19 pandemic.”
When councillor Quinton Zondervan suggested amending the order to explicitly include restaurant workers, Mallon and Simmons resisted, leading Zondervan to withdraw.