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Coronavirus Has Some Restaurant Workers Afraid For Their Health and Livelihoods

A fast food worker cleans up in San Gabriel. (Josie Huang/LAist)
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As coronavirus rapidly spreads around the U.S., some office workers are spending their days at home behind a laptop. But that’s not possible for restaurant workers like Miguel Bautista who's employed at a fast food joint in San Gabriel. For the last week or so, he’s been washing his hands at least twice an hour, and wearing gloves at the register.

It can get awkward.

"I had one man say something about his money (not being) good. And I was like, 'No, I'm sorry, sir, just I'm germophobic," Bautista said.

Bautista can’t afford to get sick. Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend self-quarantines of 14 days. But Bautista has just six days of paid sick leave.

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And he’s better off than most. Federal law doesn't mandate sick leave. California law requires qualifying workers get a minimum of three days. Workers in the city of L.A. have at least six. But enforcement is poor, and these low-wage workers often end up forgoing the time off they're owed, said Alexandra Suh, executive director of the Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance.

"Even before this crisis, many of them risk losing their jobs if they even asked for their paid sick days," Suh said.

Suh said as coronavirus circulates, employers should waive doctor’s notes and pay their sick workers.

"Missing a paycheck can mean not putting food on the table that day. It could mean not paying rent that week," Suh said.

Confronted with those choices, she said, people often feel like they have to work through their illness - a practice that health officials say is especially worrisome right now.

Take illness out of the equation, and restaurant workers still have to worry about their livelihoods.

Across L.A. and in areas affected by coronavirus, some diners are avoiding restaurants, leading owners to cut hours for their workers, or even close.

Suh is among the chorus of voices around the country calling for a halt to evictions during the health crisis for workers who lose income. In Los Angeles, city councilmember Mike Bonin announced on Twitter he is working with colleagues on a moratorium on evictions.

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Suh said she hopes the moratorium will apply to people who lose their hours or jobs because of the impact of coronavirus, not just people who come down with COVID-19.

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