Thousands of workers are losing their jobs as restaurants shut their doors, or pivot to delivery only, as a measure to help stop the spread of COVID-19. While many chefs and restaurant owners are doing the best they can to continue to pay their employees, the reality is that their businesses are hemorrhaging money. While many of these laid-off employees will be able to qualify for unemployment benefits through the government, what about those workers that are undocumented?
Undocumented workers are estimated to make up 20 percent of the restaurant labor force, according to a 2008 report from the Pew Hispanic Center. That is why chef Trigg Brown and his partners at Brooklyn's Win Son and Win Son Bakery, Josh Wu and Jesse Shapell, have launched a fund specifically aimed at gathering money to help support their employees who are undocumented for the restaurant industry.
"We want to take care of all of our employees," says Brown. "These workers don't have any access to relief or support." Brown and his partners had the idea for the fund, which they are collecting through the restaurant's Venmo account, after a flood of people reached out asking how they could support Win Son.
"We wanted to harness this energy from all of the people wanting to help immediately," says Brown. "But we want them to spend it on this instead of merchandise or gift cards."
The fund, which launched this morning, has already raised $5k. Brown notes that as soon as the fund collects enough money to match the benefits that documented workers have access too, the fund with then be split amongst all of Win Son's employees.
Crowdfunding to support employees is unfortunately an all-too-common reality in the restaurant industry. Often, the only medical insurance a restaurant worker has is a GoFundMe campaign. As the spread of COVID-19 continues to act as a battering ram, breaking down the restaurant industry's stability, this is only going to get worse.
There are other independent movements to start funds for laid-off restaurant workers, and while these might help alleviate some of the pain, the only way to save the restaurant industry, and those who work in it — undocumented or not — is for the government to offer support and funding.
But until that happens, or if that ever happens, Brown wants to make sure the most vulnerable of his employees are looked after.