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What going back to work might mean for restaurant workers

Madalyn Nones says she and many like her are left with a difficult decision to make.

MINNEAPOLIS — Curbside pick-up and delivery have become familiar terms when it comes to restaurants during the pandemic. Soon, a new term will be added: patio dine-in for some restaurants across Minnesota, come June 1.

Before the pandemic, Madalyn Nones worked two jobs working with pastry and bread. 

"With the CARES Act that was passed, when I was on unemployment, I was actually making more money than I was making working like 70 hours a week between my two jobs," Nones said.

Now with some restaurants gearing to start back up with restrictions next month, Nones argues restaurant workers have a difficult choice to make. She penned an opinion column in the Star Tribune, outlining those concerns. 

"I do want the restaurants that I work for to be successful but at the same time, when they reopen and ask us to come back, it's kind of like entering into a weird contract where I don't want to forgo my unemployment," she said. "What if I do get sick, I need that extra income."

Nones added that getting sick herself isn't even her biggest fear.

"I am really fearful of being an asymptomatic carrier and thinking, what if I am sick and I don't know it - and I'm putting those around me at risk?" she said. "Not just my coworkers but the people that I live with?"

She said she's left to weigh the consequences of going into a work place that needs her potentially at the cost of health. Hers and everyone else's.

"I'm not opposed to restaurants being open, I'm not opposed to people working together," she said. "I think that a kitchen atmosphere is hard to enforce social distancing. I think it's going to be a new situation of learning how restaurant workers can learn to use PPE, because working in a kitchen and wearing a mask is extremely uncomfortable. It's kind of complex because you're handling the food and you don't want to touch your face. But your mask falls down. So I think there's a bit learning curve around it."

She also said the whole industry will need restructuring, maybe starting with menu prices.

"I am kind of hopeful that restaurants will put in place measures probably around the price of their food," she said. "Hoping to bring in a little bit more money to cover this risk for employees."

Nones said she hopes this vulnerable time will be one that is ripe for change.

"This is a really good time I think for workers especially - people that are maybe aren't back at work quite yet - to sit and think about what they want to see happen," she said. "It's a good time for people that work in the restaurant industry to have their voices heard and say what they need."

Nones said her opinion piece reflected the wishes of many others in the industry with her. She is a member of the Restaurant Opportunities Center of Minnesota, a non-profit dedicated to advocating for fair wages and working conditions for restaurant workers around the state.

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There is also a data portal online at mn.gov/covid19.