As orange zones begin, service workers prepare for another financial hit

Nov 24, 2020

Credit James Brown / WXXI News

Service workers may take another financial hit as Gov. Andrew Cuomo designated parts of Rochester and Monroe County as orange zones this week. 

The new level of restrictions comes as the coronavirus infection rate rises. The restrictions prohibit indoor dining and close down gyms, salons, barbershops and other personal care services.

Sophia Frank is a server at Jeremiah’s Tavern on Monroe Avenue in Rochester. She said the pandemic has put a financial strain on many tipped workers like herself. 

“For takeout, usually people tip a lot less. And then also that tip is going to get split up between probably four or five people," Frank said. "Whereas if you went indoor dining, that tip will usually go to the person who served you,”

Restaurants are considered essential businesses and can keep operating even while in a shutdown setting. Under orange and red zone restrictions, customers have the option of takeout and delivery services. With dining rooms closed, restaurants will have to decide whether to reduce their staff. After Wednesday, Frank won’t be able to work until the restriction is lifted.

Another server, Cristina Vergne, works at Bathtub Billy’s, which is located in Greece, just outside the orange zone. Vergne said her livelihood relies on the tips from customers who dine in, but fewer people are doing that.

“What I made in the last week is what I typically average in one shift. So my income has dropped exponentially,” said Vergne.

Vergne said she feels that she can continue to safely serve the public and that the mask mandate has been helpful.

Frank said she’s happy with the response the state has taken to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, but she’s worried about the financial impact it will have on the serving industry.

“I’m not scared of the virus. I’m more scared of the financial issue … what scares me is that no one is going to want to come out anymore,” said Frank.

Earlier this year, the state minimum wage was increased for several service industries, with the exception of restaurant servers, whose base pay is $7.85 per hour.

Coalition group One Fair Wage is currently campaigning for Cuomo to raise the minimum wage for service workers.

Both Vergne and Frank are hoping for some financial relief either from the state or through another federal stimulus package.  

Until then, Vergne will continue to work while her place of employment is currently in a yellow zone. Frank said she will likely apply for unemployment for a second time this year.