Taking too long? Close loading screen.
Connect with us


My Boss Kept Breaking COVID-19 Rules. I Didn’t Know What to Do.



This is Eater Voices, where chefs, restaurateurs, writers, and industry insiders share their perspectives about the food world, tackling a range of topics through the lens of personal experience.

It was a Friday in August, about 9 p.m., and I was working one of my regular shifts as a line cook at a bar in Seattle’s University District. The bar up the street had closed a full hour before COVID-19 restrictions required it to, sending us a flood of customers. As they filed in, I felt completely overwhelmed. A couple of months earlier there had been a coronavirus outbreak in the nearby University of Washington’s Greek system. A lot of the customers coming into the bar now were wearing Greek-lettered shirts.

This wasn’t the first time this had happened, but the day before I’d run out of gloves, and when I’d told my boss he just said it was too bad and shrugged it off. So watching the bar fill up, I felt like I’d reached my breaking point. I knew I needed to do something, anything.

But I had no idea what; nobody offered information about what to do if you, as a worker, need to tell on your workplace. Not King County, not the city of Seattle, not the state of Washington. I needed to tell someone, but carefully.

I felt guilty, because I knew that my boss was hurting — he and his wife have three children they’re trying to send to college. Not having a reliable flow of customers had been really hard.

Still, I couldn’t reconcile my desire for him to do well with my concern for my own safety, and the safety of diners in the bar. Everyone can make their own decisions about whether or not they want to go out, but as an employee, I knew firsthand how poorly managed the bar’s sanitation was. When I’d run out of gloves the day before, it wasn’t the first time, and running out of soap and paper towels had also been a recurring issue. And in the dining area, night after night, groups were being seated one after the other without the table being wiped down.

Meanwhile, my boss seemed very unconcerned with whether or not he would become infected with COVID-19. His goal every night was to get as many people as possible in the door, and he often said that he’d stay open later if he could. He also said it wasn’t his business if people came in and wanted to have a good time. If all the tables were seated, he encouraged people at the door to wait for five or 10 more minutes. Our seating capacity was around 50 (and COVID restrictions halved that), but a lot of people would just crowd around, so often there would be 60 or more in the bar at a time, in very close proximity to each other. At the tables, which were limited to five seats, there were parties of six, seven, or eight. It was infuriating to see so many people drinking, yelling over the noise and loud music, eating and sharing finger foods, while I thought, “Oh my God, this is not okay.”

I had started working at the bar in June, three months after I’d lost my previous job as a host at another restaurant. I needed money, and so many people had told me what a mess it was to get unemployment; I had industry friends who waited three months to get paid. I only have a couple years of experience, so it was kind of a miracle when the bar’s owner wanted to hire me. I was surprised, but then I realized that he hired someone he could pay a low rate. He couldn’t afford to pay somebody with 10 or 20 years of experience what they deserve.

I felt very low in the bar’s hierarchy, and I believed that I should just shut up and be grateful to have a job in pandemic times. It seemed out of place to be stern about my needs. There is an order to the way that things are done: who can speak, who can make changes, who makes certain decisions. I put the hours in, but I still didn’t feel as though I had any right to speak up to the boss.

Still, I expressed my concern to him when I realized there were no gloves. He’d never provided them when he trained me, and I’d previously worked with chefs who didn’t wear them. I figured, surely, in light of the pandemic and safety and hygiene issues, that everybody would be wearing gloves and washing their hands a lot. But my boss didn’t wear gloves at all. And when I asked for them, I could tell it was a confusing request for him. “Why do you need so many gloves?” he asked. “Why are you going through them so quickly?”

He gave me a box that he had, but I went through them pretty fast. I had to be sparing with how I used them, and that didn’t make me feel particularly good. I was freaking out. I was very concerned for my health, but also about my job. I felt conflicted as an employee who was witnessing and working in unsafe conditions, but who also desperately needed to keep her job. I didn’t want to be responsible for shutting down my workplace altogether, because that’s a lot of pressure, and I felt horrible for snitching because that’s not a good look for anyone. And because I was the only employee, aside from the bar back who had been working for my boss for 30 years, I was really anxious about anonymity.

So I looked for some kind of anonymous complaint phone number, website, or email address to air my grievances with somebody who would then have the authority to come and do something. I went to the OSHA website, scrolled for a few minutes, and just panicked. I needed an actual human person to tell me what to do, to talk to someone whom I felt I could trust to not get me or my job in trouble.

If there were somebody else working there with me, maybe it would have been different. We would have had more power in that situation, and the ability to organize with coworkers. Being able to withhold our labor until we got what we needed, even if it was a freaking stupid box of gloves, would have been huge.

I ended up filing an anonymous complaint with the county health department’s online form. They asked for a name and contact information, but I didn’t fill them in. I wrote it as if I were a customer at the restaurant: “Today I came in and this and this happened, I observed this many people sitting and this kind of behavior.”

I’m not sure if anybody from the health department actually showed up. Normally, my boss would call each day I was scheduled to tell me when to come in, but the week after I filed the complaint, I mysteriously wasn’t called to come in at all.

Thankfully, a good friend who was opening a restaurant asked me the following week if I wanted to work for him. So I quit and took the job. His restaurant is doing takeout only, and I do mostly prep work. The kitchen is pristine. It’s been such a relief working there.

I drive by my old job often. Some evenings that I expect them to be open, they’re not. Other random times in the middle of the week, there are tons of people inside. I got lucky: Had it not been for my friend, I would still be working there. I’m independent; I need to pay my rent. I have nothing else.

To anyone in a similar situation, I would say to do research. Check your county, city, or state guidelines so that you can specifically point out which rules and regulations a business is violating. If you know somebody who you think can help, you need to reach out to them. Health department websites should be able to accommodate these kinds of issues.

Many of us in the industry were at some point taught to keep our heads down and defer to the authority of chefs, managers, and owners; there is a huge problem with workers not feeling like they have the authority to stand up to their bosses. In the time of COVID-19, however, there has to be a clear and efficient way for us to speak up and report problems when we see them happen. After all, if we’re responsible for serving the public, then whether we like it or not, we’re implicated in the protection of the public’s health and safety.

Miriam Wojtas is a cook and aspiring food writer based in Seattle.


Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


The Eater Guide on How to Help During the Crisis



Not all that long ago it seemed like if the pandemic weren’t exactly over by now, then at least the worst of it would be. But the summer didn’t make things any simpler. Cases continued to spread, and fires and hurricanes ravaged the West and Gulf Coast. As the weather turned colder, more states began allowing indoor activities and face-to-face school. As a result, the virus appears to be surging once more. It is increasingly clear that not only will thousands more Americans likely die as a direct result of COVID-19 by the end of 2020, but the mass misery of the economic devastation it has unleashed — suffering disproportionately endured by Black and Latinx communities — will not lift anytime soon. 

Benefits like the federal $600 a week unemployment expansion ran out or contracted for more than 25 million Americans in July and the federal government has failed to agree on the terms of a new aid package. Organizations that provide food and housing assistance to low-income people across the country, already strained by the last several months of the pandemic and the government’s appallingly incompetent — and at times malevolent — response, are scrambling to meet a tidal wave of need. As roughly 40 percent of restaurants on the brink of closing forever, programs that aid people in the food industry are also seeking further support so they can continue to provide assistance to worker who remain unemployed or underemployed. Groups representing Indigenous communities, undocumented immigrants, farmworkers, and people of color are also mobilizing to get assistance to marginalized people and lay a foundation for a more resilient food system — because while it’s an extraordinary time of need, it’s also not new. 

Hunger and poverty have always been the U.S.’s most shameful open secrets. Despite being the wealthiest country in the world, as of 2018 more than 13 percent of people in the U.S. lived below the poverty level, according to the Census Bureau, while a full 78 percent of U.S. workers lived paycheck to paycheck. The pandemic and its economic fallout have put those statistics into ever starker relief, as the nation’s working class and its poorest residents have faced the largest health burden from the virus. Several studies have estimated that pandemic-related job losses and increased food costs have roughly doubled food insecurity in the U.S., and No Kid Hungry estimates that one quarter of children around the country could face food insecurity in 2020 due to the novel coronavirus. 

In this guide, Eater has identified a range of programs, organizations, and charities fighting hunger, developing sustainable food networks, and providing support to the roughly 31 million people who are unemployed or are working less than they’d like to be due to this global medical disaster. These are places that are stepping in to do work in their communities where governments and elected officials have left people behind. Collected here are opportunities for giving and volunteering in and around the United States and its territories, at both the national and the local level, as well as in the U.K. Editors have done their best to vet the charities included here, but it’s always important to make sure when you give money or time that the organization you’re supporting aligns with your values and has a transparent, proven track record. If you only have time or resources to give, give it, but monetary donations — especially those offered over an extended period — can be even more impactful because charities tend to know where the greatest need is. If you’ve chosen a group and aren’t sure what’s the best way to help, it’s worth reaching out and asking.


Continue Reading


Trump Teases an ‘EPIC’ Election Night Party at His D.C. Hotel Despite Capacity Limits



Despite D.C.’s ongoing COVID-19 restrictions on large gatherings, President Donald Trump’s campaign has teased plans to host a party for election night on Tuesday, November 3, at the Trump International Hotel downtown. Fundraising emails from Donald Trump Jr. include details on a “sweepstakes” to fly a supporter to D.C. for a party described in all-caps as “EPIC,” “ELECTRIC,” and “INCREDIBLE.”

Under D.C.’s Phase 2 reopening restrictions, mass gatherings are capped at a maximum capacity of 50 people. Restaurants are still limited to half-capacity seating with no standing and no countertop service from bartenders. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser says she wasn’t aware of plans for the party until Monday, October 26, Washingtonian reports.

The location of the election night party is unclear, but the opulent hotel has multiple ballrooms and event spaces. The hotel includes a location of celebrity chef David Burke’s BLT Prime steakhouse. Lobby-level bar Benjamin serves $23 glasses of sangria and $120 seafood towers. Nearby, more affordable pub Harry’s has already seen pro-Trump crowds openly flouting mask requirements and other protocols meant to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus. Trump has consistently downplayed the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic. After he survived a case, Trump told Americans, “Don’t let it dominate your life.”

On election night four years ago, the recently opened hotel was the site of an impromptu and raucous gathering for supporters watching the numbers roll in on large TVs framing its gold bar. The controversial Pennsylvania Avenue hotel near the White House has been sold out for weeks on and around Election Day at rates going for $1,200 a night, the Associated Press reports.

The fine print in the sweepstakes notes the campaign can move the date of the trip and the location of the hotel stay at its discretion. The prize also includes a photo op with Trump. The supposedly randomly chosen winner, who is subject to a background check, will be responsible for all ground transportation, meals, and all other expenses during the duration of the trip.


Continue Reading


Eater Staffers Pick Their Favorite Instant Pot Recipes



Now that we are over the sourdough-and-regrowing-scallions part of the pandemic, but in no way over the actual pandemic, we must prepare for The Hunkering. Every winter is a time for stews, roasts, and hearty pasta bakes, but this winter it feels extra important, both because most of us are going to be indoors way more than any previous season, and have completely lost the energy to do anything but throw a bunch of stuff in a pot. Which obviously means it’s time to break out the Instant Pots.

A few years ago it seemed like electric multicookers, especially the Instant Pot, may have just been a fad. But the fact that in one appliance you can cook anything from soup to pudding to bread makes it pretty ideal for cooking during quarantine fatigue. Eater’s staffers rounded up our favorite go-to Instant Pot recipes, perfect for the many nights when you’re in the mood for something delicious, but you know, wanting to do as little as possible to make it happen. And as Eater Dallas and Eater Houston editor Amy McCarthy noted, you could always go with “just some fucking chicken breasts,” and let the machine do the rest.

Beef barley soup: This is the first that comes to mind. It’s basically a textbook version of this classic soup, and perfect for chilly weather. It’s low-lift, reasonably quick to put together, and freezes well. — Missy Frederick, cities director

Dakbokkeumtang: I make this recipe when I’m craving a savory chicken dish with the volume turned up. All that delicious flavor comes from the sauce. It’s a perfect balance of sweet and spicy from gochujang and sugar. Doenjang and oyster sauce adds another layer of depth. Typically to make this Korean comfort dish, you would need to watch over the pot, making sure that the chicken pieces are soaking up the sauce. But everything is done in the Instant Pot, so the result is fall-off-the-bone, tender chicken with potatoes that just break apart with no effort at all. Also, who doesn’t love a dump-everything-and-press-the-button recipe?! — James Park, social media manager

Mac and cheese: I make this one once a week when I’m lazy and cooking sounds hard. I use whatever cheese is in the fridge, add a little brown mustard to the mix, and usually skip the milk or add it at the very end. Would suggest you grate the mozzarella or it becomes a blob. — Brenna Houck, editor at Eater Detroit

Chinese poached whole chicken: Basically, I get a whole chicken every week, and I got tired of roasting it. This recipe is a really easy — not entirely foolproof, but a good enough way to poach a chicken whole in about 40 to 50 minutes, with not too much work on my part. You can use it specifically as white-cut chicken over rice with, say, a ginger scallion sauce, but just as often I pull the meat off the carcass and use it for meals throughout the week. Two caveats: You really do need an instant-read thermometer to tell when it’s done, and I find it’s much better to salt the chicken 24 hours in advance (I use the method in Salt Fat Acid Heat), so it has enough taste. And after poaching the chicken and pulling off the meat, I often toss the carcass right back into its cooking liquid, cook it on manual for another 60 minutes, and end up with a bunch of chicken stock. — Meghan McCarron, special correspondent

Kosha mangsho: This is a traditional Bengali goat or lamb stew in a heavily spiced, yogurt gravy, and it’s intensely rich and comforting. This recipe uses a pressure cooker to save time, but on the offchance you landed on this page and don’t have an Instant Pot or the like, you can still just simmer it in a large pot. — Jaya Saxena, staff writer

Lemongrass coconut chicken: The sauce is unbelievably tasty for just a few ingredients and it comes together so quickly. The labor to flavor ratio makes it one of my go-tos when I get bored with cooking or can’t be bothered to put in much effort. It’s also great over rice or any other grain. — Brittanie Shey, Eater Houston and Eater Dallas associate editor

Basic chicken noodle soup: I make a basic chicken noodle soup in the Instant Pot probably every week in the winter: The base recipe is two chicken breasts, a carton and a half of broth, a few cups (I eyeball it) roughly chopped diced celery, carrot, and onion, and whatever spices you want. Cook everything together on high pressure for 25 mins. You can quick-release the pressure and remove the chicken breasts, and shred them — while you’re shredding, set the pot’s saute function so the broth remains boiling and add egg noodles. Once the noodles are cooked, dump the shredded chicken back in and you’re done! This is perfect because frozen chicken works just as well (and at the same cook time), and you can experiment with any leafy greens at the end (throw them in when you add the noodles) and any noodle types you want. — Erin DeJesus, lead editor, Eater.com

Pork chile verde: This recipe is very good; I found it last year when I had a truckload of tomatillos from my garden. It is a great comfort food and works well as stew or tacos. — Brenna Houck, Editor at Eater Detroit


Continue Reading