One Fair Wage's New York COVID Memorial

Friday, March 15, 2024, marks the 4th anniversary of the NYC restaurant shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and One Fair Wage (OFW) held a memorial for the over 12,000 restaurant workers who passed away due to COVID-related complications. The memorial also served as a point to share new information on the restaurant industry’s current state in the post-pandemic world, through a new report. The report, ‘Always Essential, Still Waiting for Change’, highlights the growing inequalities in the restaurant industry, which include higher levels of wage theft, racial and gender pay gaps growing, as well as high risks of harassment especially for women of color. You can read the full report here


The memorial also included testimonials from workers who worked in the restaurant industry during the pandemic. Tamara, a trans and workers’ rights activist, reflected on her time working in the restaurant industry as COVID restrictions were just being lifted, “I couldn’t see my children… due to working at the restaurant”. She went on to call out the hypocrisy of some COVID policies, “I was told to stay home, but who can stay home? The rich, the ones who can afford it… earning $8 an hour doesn’t help me make basic payments.” She went on to say, “We got called ‘essential workers’… essential for the bourgeoisie…[but] we the ‘essential workers’ can’t afford any essentials”. Tefa, OFW’s national co-organizing director, shared how she was told to sleep off COVID and return to work the next day. 


The memorial was a reminder of issues that restaurant workers face day to day, but OFW co-founder and current president Saru Jayaraman reminded us that change is possible. “Subminimum wages are part of a legacy of slavery…OFW’s legislation seeks to end that”, she called on the audience to call their legislatures and urge them to pass the One Fair Wage Bill (A1710/S5567).