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One Fair Wage Wants to Help Reopen Restaurants—and Change How They Pay Workers

When the coronavirus pandemic hit New York City in mid-March, the city’s restaurant industry was among the first to feel the shock. With so many restaurants shuttered since then, restaurant workers are reeling. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly 200,000 restaurant and bar staffers lost their jobs between March and April, a 68.1 percent reduction.

As part of an effort to lay the foundation for reopening, last week, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a $3 million Restaurant Revitalization Program, which will provide funding to 100 family-run restaurants forced to close due to COVID-19.

The project is part of a collaboration with One Fair Wage, a national organization dedicated to raising wages and increasing equity for service workers. Restaurants are eligible for a $30,000 grant from New York City and a $5,000 grant from One Fair Wage. Restaurants that don’t land $30,000 from the city, but commit to One Fair Wage’s equity program, also have the opportunity to apply to get the entire $35,000 from One Fair Wage. The group launched a version of this initiative, which they call High Roads Kitchens, in California in May.

In line with One Fair Wage’s mission, the funding comes with a few stipulations: Restaurant owners must pay $20 an hour (before tips) to each worker for six weeks, and then must commit to paying $15 an hour for all workers—including tipped workers—within five years. The requirement is an effort to end a practice still in use in 43 states that allows workers who receive at least $30 per month in tips to be paid just $2.13 per hour.

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Restaurants must also provide 500 free meals per week to low-wage workers, health care workers, or others who are struggling as a result of the pandemic. Priority will also be given to restaurants in neighborhoods hardest hit economically by the pandemic, especially in low-income communities of color.

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