By Katharine Swindells
BU News Service
A small group of staff and supporters shivered outside Boston Convention and Exhibition Center Sunday morning as Sen. Ed Markey warned of the winter’s potentially devastating impact on the hospitality industry, calling on Senate Republicans to pass the Restaurant Act to support those workers.
“In Massachusetts, 17% of those filing for unemployment are members of the service industry,” Markey said. “We need Washington, D.C. to step up for small businesses that once we’re able to employ so many of these workers. These people now need our help.”
Award-winning Boston restauranter Jody Adams warned that the coming cold months and the decline in outdoor dining meant that relief for restaurants was urgent.
“We can’t afford to wait until after the election,” Adams said. “Congress can’t go home without delivering relief to the people of the commonwealth and the entire country. They need to take care of the people who have been taking care of them this whole time during the pandemic. Winter is coming.”
The Restaurant Act, part of another package of COVID-19 relief, is a $120 billion bill that would provide grants to small food and drink establishments to cover payroll, rent and other running costs. Businesses need to have had a revenue of $1.5 million annually prior to the pandemic in order to be eligible.
Markey was joined by Carlos Aramayo, president of UNITE HERE Local 26, which represents restaurant and hotel workers in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Aramayo said that hospitality workers were facing a “triple threat” as a result of COVID-19: reliance on unemployment, lack of employer-provided healthcare and no guarantee that their jobs will be available when they can return.
“We have thousands and thousands of workers who are falling off employer-provided health care and are falling into situations where they potentially cannot afford to continue their health insurance in the middle of a global health crisis,” he said.
Markey called out Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for not bringing the bill to the Senate floor, despite the fact that the act is bipartisan, introduced by Republican Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi and Democratic Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon.
“Despite all of the financial and economic hardships that Americans have encountered, Mitch McConnell and the Senate Republicans allowed the enhanced unemployment benefits to lapse at the end of July,” Markey said. “That is unconscionable. It is a dereliction of duty. It is just plain wrong.”
One of Markey’s leading policy platforms is the Green New Deal, proposed legislation of which Markey is the co-sponsor. When asked by the BU News Service how the Deal would improve life for hospitality workers, Markey said that it would reduce pollution, an issue which disproportionately affects poor communities and urban workers.
“Pollution has led to much higher incidences of asthma amongst Black and immigrant communities, and that underlying condition of asthma has made them more vulnerable to the coronavirus,” he said. “So, the Green New Deal goes right to the issue of intersectionality, right to the issue of frontline communities, right to the issue of communities of color being given protections from the pollution which they’re exposed to in much greater percentage than white suburban residents.”
Markey also addressed the topic of U.S. Supreme Court nominations, following the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Friday. Markey canceled his campaign appearances Saturday to discuss the issue with fellow Democrats.
“If Donald Trump moves to appoint a new Supreme Court Justice, then next January when the Democrats win the Senate, and we win the presidency, then we must abolish the filibuster,” he said. “And we must begin a process to expand the Supreme Court because the Republicans will have stolen two Supreme Court justices that they were not entitled to.”