In April, after Shadowproof put out a call for pitches from journalists, Clare Busch proposed a report on labor and organizing among restaurant workers in Georgia. We are really glad she did because the impacts from the coronavirus outbreak remain intense.
Restaurant workers have endured some of the worst aspects of the coronavirus crisis, with eight million or more workers fired or furloughed.
The National Restaurant Association estimated in April that two out of three employees no longer have a job in the industry. And now, with states re-opening, workers who have already put their lives at risk to serve customers during the COVID-19 outbreak are expected to restore dining in some capacity, which may fuel new spikes in infections.
“The problems that we see appearing within the service industry are the most extreme iterations of our economy’s disregard for workers: lack of health care, low pay for physically demanding labor, living paycheck to paycheck, no job security, no protection from harassment from coworkers or customers, etc,” Clare said.
It makes sense. What happens to “essential workers,” or workers on the front lines, will impact all making lower wages, especially as the impacts of COVID-19 continue to ripple through the economy.
Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, Clare has followed the plight of restaurant workers closely.
On April 27, Civil Eats published a report by Clare that amplified the concerns of workers who feared the state of Georgia was turning them into “guinea pigs” by re-opening restaurants too soon.
Cameren Cook, 34, was a line cook at the Lazy Llama Cantina in Atlanta’s midtown neighborhood. She has been furloughed for a little over a month. After several weeks she has finally started receiving unemployment benefits and has started paying off her debts. Now, that lifeline is in question.
“I refuse to go back to work, because I know that it is too soon,” she told Civil Eats. Cook said she does not have health insurance, like many service workers, and doesn’t want to expose herself to the virus for the sake of a low-paying job.
“I’m always interested in reporting on restaurant workers partially because I’ve worked on and off in service since I was 15,” Clare told Shadowproof.
Clare says she has had “trouble interesting publications in stories centered on workers within the service industry, especially with the focus on Georgia workers, compared to say New York or California.”
“I had an editor once tell me something along the lines of if the story I proposed was of national consequence, they might cover it. Now, whether that’s my failure in pitching to mainstream publications or their disinterest, I don’t know.”
We did not hesitate to green light Clare’s proposed story about restaurant workers organizing in Georgia and Virginia. This is the kind of journalism that deserves as much support as possible, and we encourage you to read the excellent work she did for us: In ‘Right-To-Work’ States, Restaurant Workers Mobilize During COVID-19 For Better Conditions