This charade of “choice” is the consequence of a cascade of failures by the U.S. government in the face of a monumental challenge. It was obvious that this pandemic posed an existential threat to the restaurant industry and its millions of workers. Yet shutdowns happened haphazardly and incompletely, while clear and actionable data about how to safely operate was virtually nonexistent. Much-needed relief is only now starting to materialize (and there isn’t nearly enough of it). The industry and its workers have been left to hang by a thread, with an estimated 110,000-plus bars and restaurants closed, 2.5 million jobs lost, and countless dead.
These failures are rooted in one of America’s most toxic core beliefs: that the economy matters more than the people who create it. It wasn’t surprising when the state basically abandoned the restaurant industry and its workers; in the absence of state support, what choice did operators and workers have but to keep working? The government called restaurant workers “essential” to the economy. Unfortunately, that designation also meant that they were expendable as bodies encountering a deadly virus.