We are ready for our lives to get back to normal.
I don’t know anybody who disputes that.
But what I am not hearing enough about is how workers will be protected once they’re back on the job.
Restaurant and small business owners can wipe down surfaces and disinfect floors all day, but the coronavirus is airborne. What’s their plan to keep employees from getting COVID-19? Pushing restaurant tables farther apart may not be enough to protect servers and hostesses. And opening up outdoor decks and patios for food consumption could help, but what about the cooks back in the kitchen?
"You might laugh and you might not care, but I care about the people I serve and I wish you guys would act like it,” he says on widely shared videos.
“What we are demanding right now — and what folks are demanding — is that they get to be served, that they get to go to a restaurant and sit down and be served by a service worker who they refuse to pay a $15 minimum wage,” he continues.
Then the boos break out.
“Yes, you can boo, but it’s true,” he shoots back.
Kenyatta goes on to bring up shortages of personal protective equipment.
“How is a small-business owner right now going to even get the PPE necessary to ensure that their workers go back in a safe way?" he says. "You’re asking mom-and-pop shops [and] small restaurants to compete against health-care workers who need it to keep folks safe inside our health-care institutions.”
I wish I could have been there to see the whole thing in person. Judging by the number of comments and the times it has been passed around, Kenyatta’s comments are resonating with people who are concerned about how certain business owners seem more interested in opening back up than protecting employees during a pandemic.
“We’ve never, never valued those jobs and those people in the way that we should and certainly not in line with the value that they provide to our economy and to our cities," Kenyatta told me Friday about service industry employees. “We’re seeing it a little bit more as we’ve been shut down, we’ve depended on the folks who show up at the grocery store and who care for people.”
I learned about the video after Philadelphia Gay News founder and publisher Mark Segal alerted me to yet another one by Kenyatta, the first openly LGBT person of color elected to the General Assembly. During it, he comes out publicly on the House floor.
In it, he talks about growing up in a religious family and how he’s been trying unsuccessfully to get an amendment added to various bills to help end discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
“It was a really emotional moment for me,” Kenyatta told me of that speech.
Like all state reps, Kenyatta faces reelection this year. But what strikes me most about these remarks is that he wasn’t merely currying favor to win votes in his North Philly district. He’s running unopposed in next month’s primary, which means he’ll likely win another term in November.
He says what a lot of us are thinking, particularly when it comes to how reopening various elements of the economy right now will impact service industry workers.