Restaurant workers push back against calls for reopening indoor dining

Averie Knapp worked as a bartender in Gig Harbor until the latest indoor dining ban to address the raging pandemic forced her employer to lay her off.

“People should know that we’re really struggling,” she said.

Although she’s suffering financially, Knapp says reopening indoor dining too soon would be a mistake.

Gov. Jay Inslee’s latest order expires on Jan 4.

“I do feel like we should stay closed until the situation is under control. You can always make more money, you can’t bring back your loved ones.”

She is among the restaurant workers to sign a new letter from Working Washington.

The letter says “restaurant dining is not an essential service” and takes aim at reassuring safety statements from the Washington Hospitality Association.

“People can come into restaurants and be safe,” the association’s CEO, Anthony Anton, recently told reporters.

But the new letter from workers says, “we have seen co-worker after co-worker test positive for COVID.”

“It’s actually been scary a couple of times going back to work during the pandemic,” Knapp said. “Your co-worker coughs and you’re like, is it here, are we going to shut down?”

“Indoor dining way too soon, way too soon,” said Madeleine Ped, who was laid off twice from Seattle restaurants during the pandemic and struggled to get unemployment.

“The smallest people on the scale are so deeply affected by this,” she said.

At work, Ped often had to remind customers to put on a mask.

Knapp says enforcing COVID-19 safety rules while working for tips was far worse than ever having to cut people off at the bar.

“When you tell people, ‘Hey, I can’t have you shove your tables together and have a party of 12 because my restaurant will literally be shut down and you could be giving your grandma COVID right now,’ people aren’t nearly as nice,” she said.

Working Washington’s letter is addressed to Gov. Inslee and state representatives, calling on them to fix the unemployment system and provide direct relief to workers, so that people can afford to stay home and be safe.