The relationship between New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and restaurant workers has not progressed in a straight line.
Cuomo, a Democrat, said restaurants in the city could reopen on Valentine’s Day with 25% capacity, but on Monday dismissed comments that restaurant workers should be get priority for the COVID-19 vaccination. “It’s a cheap, insincere discussion,” Cuomo said at a press conference. “Yes, I would like to see restaurant workers eligible, but what does eligibility mean when you don’t have enough?”
On Tuesday, however, he reversed that policy. “I’m leaving it up to local governments to determine what fits their situation,” the governor said at a press conference. He said local governments may now add restaurant workers, taxi drivers and workers at developmentally-disabled facilities to the current 1B Phase group for the COVID-19 vaccine.
“Restaurant workers are primarily immigrants, women and people of color, not just in our economy, but in the greater, cultural sense to our New York State communities,” said Saru Jayaraman, president and co-founder of One Fair Wage, a national nonprofit group advocating on behalf of minimum- and subminimum-wage workers.
As of Tuesday, there were 26.4 million confirmed cases of SARS-CoV-2, and 445,030 deaths. New York City the epicenter of the pandemic in the U.S. during the first wave last summer, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University. Worldwide, there were over 103 million confirmed cases and more than 2.2 million deaths.
Last year, Cuomo sid he had “two nightmares” when the pandemic began. “One that I would put out directives on what we need to do, and 19 million New Yorkers would say, ‘I haven’t been convinced, I’m not going to do this.’” He added, “I can’t remember when government was more disruptive to individual life. What if New Yorkers said, ‘It’s too much, it’s an overreaction, it’s political.’”
“My second nightmare was: What if the essential workers don’t show up?” the governor said Tuesday. “You have to have food, you have to have transportation, the lights have to be on, someone has to pick up the garbage, the hospitals have to run. What if you communicated so effectively, the essential workers say, ‘If everyone is staying home, I’m staying home too.’”
“What if they said, ‘You don’t pay me enough to put my life in danger? I’m not doing it.’ They showed up. They didn’t show up for a pay check. They didn’t show up because government asked them to show up,” he said. “They showed up out of their honor, out of their values, out of their dignity. That’s why they showed up.” He added, “They have honor in their souls and strength in their character.”