Service Industry Re-opening: Survival Guide

With vaccines getting distributed and lockdowns waning, service industry workers are going back to cooking food, waiting tables, and dealing with crappy bosses and customers. Here’s what you need to know to get through the upcoming months:


The pandemic is not over

Despite the cultural optimism that vaccine distribution means everything will soon go back to “normal,” experts advise we should still wear masks and maintain social distancing. The vaccine reduces symptoms but vaccinated individuals are still contagious. Currently, service workers are experiencing unsafe conditions. The worker advocacy organization One Fair Wage recently conducted the study Take Off Your Mask So I Know How Much to Tip You, which found that in the U.S.:

  • 44% of service workers reported that at least one or more of their coworkers in their restaurant contracted COVID

  • ⅓ reported being within six feet of a maskless individual every shift

  • 89% of workers reported that their employer is not consistently following COVID safety protocols


In addition to these new hazards, existing workplace issues have been exacerbated, including a decrease in tips and an increase in sexual harassment from customers.

No one should have to work sick Everyone knows that working while sick is a hazard to coworkers and customers, not to mention yourself. But time and again service industry workers have to come in sick, either because managers refuse to schedule more than the bare minimum employees per shift, or because low wages mean a loss of hours turns into a loss of groceries that week. Dealing with unsafe circumstances like having to work sick or experiencing harassment is often seen as a badge of honor by workers. This honor is well-deserved because jobs in the service industry require substantial strength to do. However, the pride can sometimes morph into an affinity for unfair situations and impede progress in the workplace. Moving towards a better workplace environment means recognizing both the resilience of workers as well as the desire to eliminate the practices that hurt them.

Building Solidarity Everyday Managers will do everything to make employees feel disposable, but anyone who has seen their manager try to cook or serve a table will know that the hard work and expertise of the employees is what keeps the business going. Building solidarity means reminding your coworkers that they are not disposable by taking an interest in them as people. What starts with offering a coworker a ride home can turn into rallying your entire shift to refuse to work until an abusive customer is kicked out. Next time you hear another worker venting about poor working conditions, ask what you can all do to change those conditions. Follow up on harassment reports to make sure the harassment policy is working effectively, and try to get it changed if it’s not. Workers run the business and make the profits, meaning we hold the power- we just need to choose to use it. Service Workers of the Ann Arbor Area has open zoom meetings every other Thursday to discuss workplace concerns and organizing strategies. Contact us to get information on these meetings. (photo credit: Shutterstock)


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