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Service Industry Workers & Owners Demand Aid from City of Philadelphia

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(This letter is adapted from the letter from the Caucus of Working Educators, sent to Dr. Hite, Mayor Kenney and members of the Philadelphia School Board and City Council late last week. We thank the Caucus of Working Educators for their leadership and stand in solidarity with their message.) 

To Mayor Kenney and members of the Philadelphia City Council; 

We, the workers, owners and patrons of service industry businesses in Philadelphia including restaurants; bars; coffee shops; nightlife and entertainment venues; beauty salons; hotels; retail establishments; and other service industries are gravely concerned about how the global COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic is affecting and will continue to affect our personal health and wellbeing, our coworkers, our livelihoods, our communities, and our economy. The current situation in Philadelphia is an extremely precarious public health emergency, and the lack of clear guidance from our local government, including the mayor and city council, is completely unacceptable. 

To date, there has been no coordinated effort from City government on how to establish safety and sanitation procedures in consumer-facing businesses where people congregate and work in close quarters as a part of daily life. Philadelphians working on the front lines in service and hospitality during this pandemic have not been given the support, resources, and information necessary to effectively enact the social distancing recommended by the Center for Disease Control. 

Workers facing the total decimation of their income through loss of tips, hours, gigs and events were put in the position of choosing to work on the front lines with the public and endanger their own health and the health of thousands of others, or be unable to pay their bills, for entirely too long.  Individual business owners are facing the loss of their entire livelihoods and income on their own, without any support or relief from the city that enjoys the economic benefits of their existence. Many businesses remained open in hopes of earning revenue so that they can continue to pay their staff and keep people in jobs, which of course also includes seasonal workers in the arts, music and theatre. Working artists often depend on the flexible and supplemental income service work can provide. They are the cultural heart of our city.

Until the City of Philadelphia mandated closure of non-essential businesses on Monday, March 16, only a tiny fraction of the city’s consumer-facing businesses had reduced their hours, modified their physical layouts to increase social distance, or closed to slow the spread of COVID-19. The city’s retail corridors remained active over the March 13-15 weekend, despite clear and widely reported evidence from infectious disease experts that immediate social distancing and self-quarantine are the only hope of slowing the spread of COVID-19 in order to not overwhelm our healthcare system with patients in critical condition, as is happening now in Italy and Seattle. Furthermore, the most recent update from the Philadelphia Board of Health, Department of Public Health, and Office of the Mayor, while addressing the effects of library and school closures, has no guidance or recommendations related to Philadelphia’s massive entertainment, hospitality, and service industries. 

As workers, managers, business owners and community members, we demand immediate financial assistance and support. We have the following common good demands for how the City of Philadelphia can serve our workers, business owners, and residents: 

  1. Provide an immediate emergency fund for all workers, including tipped, part-time, undocumented and 1099 contractors who work in all public-facing businesses in Philadelphia. This fund must be easily accessible to all workers, regardless of whether they are full- or part-time laborers and regardless of immigration status. Access to emergency funds must also include legal support and navigation for workers. 
  2. Establish an immediate relief fund for businesses affected by the pandemic as well as legal support and navigation. This fund must include clear eligibility requirements, application processes, and guarantees for support from local government to help businesses who suffer as a result of the COVID 19 pandemic. 
  3. Immediate forgiveness of payment on sales, liquor and other applicable taxes.
  4. Immediately follow through on resolutions from Councilmembers Helen Gym and Kendra Brooks that protect working people during extended closures of businesses -- no foreclosures, evictions, or utility shut-offs, and paid sick leave and supports for workers. 
  5. Provide childcare for healthcare and other workers essential to responding to the outbreak.
  6. Set up safe, free testing locations in every neighborhood that can also provide treatment for those with mild symptoms. 

We are calling upon everyone in the City Government of Philadelphia to do the right thing for the good of Philadelphia’s residents and the entire human community. Immediate financial assistance and guarantee of relief to affected workers and businesses are an act of solidarity and unity that will save thousands of lives, and ensure our vibrant service industry returns when the time of crisis has passed.

(We are working to translate this document into Spanish, French, Mandarin Chinese and Cantonese Chinese now.) 



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