Viewpoint: Early vaccine priority needed for restaurant workers
By Carrie Leishman
For the last 10 months, restaurants – our state’s largest small business sector employer and the industry that continues to be the single, most negatively impacted due to the state’s mandated restrictions and closures – have been in an economic freefall, losing two-thirds of its workforce, $1 billion dollars in economic output, and most recently another mass layoff of 3,000 restaurant workers as a result of the latest government restrictions.
Restaurants and their workforce have led by example throughout this pandemic crisis, taking extraordinary steps to protect the health and safety of customers and employees. We are a proud industry, standing in support and solidarity with our state’s essential health care workers and first responders whom we offer community support through food.
Restaurants and their employees are more than their formal “essential worker” pandemic designation. They are vital partners along the food chain, providing sustenance and nourishment to those who cannot feed themselves, as well as to our medical professionals, first responders, the elderly, school communities and hundreds of thousands of Delawareans on a daily basis.
Restaurant workers are performing critical tasks. They make a living with their hands and cannot work from home, nor can they be offered workplace flexibility like those in state and local governments and corporate business sectors. If they do not work – thousands of workers do not earn a paycheck. It is why keeping restaurants open is vital. It saves the livelihoods of thousands of Delawareans. It keeps food on the table.
While the food and beverage industry supports the early and swift prioritization of vaccinating essential workers in critical infrastructure industries, including health care and first responders along with high-risk individuals, restaurants and their workforce are running out of runway … and the next priority and deployment of vaccines for food, agriculture and food processing will help ensure those supply chains remain operating and will be a key intervention to keep workers healthy. It could help save the workforce and the restaurant industry.
The push for early vaccination of restaurant and foodservice workers during the coronavirus pandemic has been a months-long effort. The National Restaurant Association and a host of other food industry associations sent a letter to the White House in June asking that “food and agriculture workers be given the next highest priority for receiving the vaccine behind our nation’s health care workers, first responders and high-risk individuals.”
Delaware Restaurants are the cornerstone of every community, responsible before the pandemic crisis for 50,000 jobs with an economic footprint of $2.5 billion in sales revenue annually. Restaurants are on life support – but will continue to breathe luster and opportunity into Delaware’s cities and towns, as well as our beach and rural communities. The vaccine brings new promise and hope to a struggling industry … an industry that needs the assurance that its elected officials value the lives of restaurant workers as essential to Delaware and all they serve.
Carrie Leishman serves as president and CEO of the Delaware Restaurant Association.