A petition to extend the closure of Washtenaw County bars and restaurants is gaining traction among local service industry workers.
Launched on June 5, the petition already has 700 signatures from workers who are worried about contracting COVID-19 and feel forced to choose between their lives and livelihoods. The appeal comes in the wake of Gov. Whitmer allowing area bars and restaurants to reopen for dine-in services as of June 8.
"We would like to see the closure of dine-in services extended until COVID-19 is no longer a threat to public health," says Gabi Bussell, a local bartender who created the petition. "While this can mean a variety of things, for us it means that the number of cases is so low that the threat of community spread is extremely minimal."
Bussell is also the driving force behind a Facebook page called Service Industry Workers of the Ann Arbor Area. She started the support hub, which has close to 2,500 members, in mid-March when the pandemic arrived in Washtenaw County. Her goal was to help industry workers navigate the plethora of issues affecting them during the pandemic.
Recently, Bussell posted a poll to determine how group members felt about returning to work. The results showed that many harbor deep reservations. Other discussions prompted by group members indicate fear of contracting COVID-19 and the threat of being fired and losing unemployment benefits.
"On top of all of this, I’ve seen discussions on other pages from locals, who don’t work in the service industry, who have concerns for the health of the community when dine-in services reopen," Bussell says. "After doing research, it became clear that despite the safety regulations offered by the government, dine-in services would be dangerous."
Bussell explains that the risks revolve around customers being unable to effectively wear masks while eating and drinking, drunk or difficult customers being less likely to follow safety guidelines, and proof that air conditioning units can easily spread COVID-19 droplets throughout public buildings. The petition also includes numerous links to news reports indicating that states that have reopened show a significant spike in cases and deaths.
"To us, it isn’t worth the luxury of having dinner or a beer in a restaurant or bar during a global pandemic if it means more lives will be lost," Bussell says.
She adds that despite economic pressures, a few businesses have decided to stay shuttered for the sake of their employees’ health. She hopes bar and restaurant owners will reach out to their staff to discuss how to move forward safely.
"I have no doubt that, together, we could not only work toward ensuring workers’ safety and livelihoods, but toward demanding that our government provide aid to small businesses," Bussell says.
Once 1,000 signatures have been collected, the petition will be sent to the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners.
"Anyone living in the county can sign since this issue affects the community's health on the whole," Bussell says. "I hope people see that our mission is to protect workers that have, for so long, been viewed as expendable. People’s health and safety and their lives are worth saving over the economy. That’s the bottom line."
The full petition is available here.
For more Concentrate coverage of our community's response to the COVID-19 crisis, click here.
Jaishree Drepaul-Bruder is a freelance writer and editor currently based in Ann Arbor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.