Hours after reading my column about a Penn dining-hall cook who was laid off while his sick wife was home with their paralyzed son, Anton Moore was dropping off groceries at their front steps.
As I shared this past weekend, Troy Harris’ employer, Bon Appétit Management Co. — which runs the university’s kosher dining hall — announced it would be letting go about 140 people by the end of March without further pay. Not a great look for it or the well-endowed university. Meanwhile, Harris’ wife, Debra, had to leave her nursing-home job while she waits to hear if she has the coronavirus.
Moore, a Southwest Philadelphia community activist, texted me on Saturday: “Can I drop off some groceries?”
Readers were just as eager to help.
“We are all hurting,” one reader wrote. But she and others were quick to offer what they could: cash, checks, gift cards. One man, who said he was lucky enough to have a little savings, offered his own stimulus check.
And then, after much backlash, Penn said it would step in and pay laid-off Bon Appétit workers through May 15.
“This is a crucial time for civic leadership,” Penn president Amy Gutmann said.
Isn’t it, though? It’s just too bad that so many have to be shamed into doing the right thing.
After mounting pressure from players, employees, and the public, the owners of the Philadelphia 76ers and New Jersey Devils reversed course on their decision to force employees to take a temporary 20% pay cut.
“To our staff and fans, I apologize for getting this wrong,” Sixers owner Josh Harris said in a statement.
Wrong, but not alone.
As my colleague Juliana Feliciano Reyes reported, the nationally renowned restaurant group run by Steve Cook and chef Michael Solomonov came under fire from its laid-off workers when it said it would not pay out accrued sick time as previously planned. Paying out sick time would put the business in a precarious financial position, they said.
Workers from places like Federal Donuts, Zahav, and Goldie organized a petition calling for the sick leave they had earned, citing an emergency city law.
The owners slammed the city for murky regulations, but eventually relented.
In an email sent to employees on behalf of Cook and Solomonov, they said: “Nevertheless, our fight is with the city, not with you. And you do not deserve to be collateral damage in this fight."
A similar scenario played out for workers at Stephen Starr’s Starr Restaurant Group, who were initially told they would not get paid for sick time they had earned before some employees were told they would.
Look, almost everyone is taking a financial hit, but workers with “essential” jobs are facing the highest risks for the lowest wages. And they shouldn’t have to fight their bosses to do the right thing in the worst of times.
If one thing has become clear during this pandemic, it’s just how quickly our world comes to a screeching halt without the store clerks and delivery drivers and warehouse workers and housekeepers.
We owe them. We’ve owed them for a very long time.
That reader who said we’re all hurting was right. But while corporations wait on their bailouts, we need to take care of those who are taking care of us.
If everyday people can get their heads around that, employers who build their portfolios on their workers’ backs should, too.
The Harrises were thrilled to hear that Penn was stepping up where Bon Appétit and its owner Compass Group weren’t. So were many of the readers I updated. And yet, many said they still intended to make good on helping the family out.
“That’s great news,” one reader told me. “But knowing that the Harrises are still very short of income, I’ll continue my efforts at this end.”