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News » Local News

The Bartenders' Blight

As restaurants statewide are limited to delivery and take-out only, servers and bartenders experience mass layoffs

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Per Oregon Gov. Kate Brown's Monday announcement, bars and restaurants statewide are limited to take-out and delivery only for the next four weeks. While local servers and bartenders are now generally laid off "until further notice," the service industry as a whole is taking a scary and security-threatening blow. The teachers, bartenders, servers, venue janitors, massage therapists, dentists, ticket-takers and bus drivers... so many workers are impacted right now.

Early Saturday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a coronavirus emergency aid package, with the endorsement of President Trump, in a 363-40 vote. The package includes two weeks of guaranteed sick leave and increased family leave, increased support for unemployment benefits, a small bump in Medicaid funding and a focus on strengthening school lunch programs. It also promises free coronavirus testing for everyone who requires it, even those who aren't insured—though testing remains very limited thus far.

Servers and bartenders who rely on their jobs as their main source of income are feeling the impact of statewide restaurant and bar closures. - LAUREL BRAUNS
  • Laurel Brauns
  • Servers and bartenders who rely on their jobs as their main source of income are feeling the impact of statewide restaurant and bar closures.

But what does this mean for the average lower to middle-class American, those living paycheck-to-paycheck and relying heavily on consistent income and/or the generous tips of their previous patrons?  

Employers are currently required—by law—to provide employees with up to 12 weeks of job-protected medical leave; however, they aren't required to offer any compensation during this time period. (Oregon does have a paid sick time law; however, it's only for companies with 10 or more employees.)

The House bill would provide those diagnosed with COVID-19 paid medical leave for up to 12 weeks, capped off at two-thirds of their average monthly earnings or $4,000 per month. The bill also applies to those caring for a family member who has been diagnosed or caring for a dependent due to a closure. The bill would also grant an immediate 14 days of paid sick leave to those infected, caring for the infected, or caring for a dependent. Small businesses—businesses with 50 employees or fewer—would be reimbursed for all granted paid sick leave. Companies with 500 or more employees are excluded from the bill.

Still, a massive group of dependent-free adults are out there who haven't been exposed to the virus—those who have already started to experience the economic impact. We talked to some locals to get their reaction.

Local workers are worried

Michelle Mora, a massage therapist at Falling Waters in Bend, explained that her main concern is clients simply not showing up. "This has definitely been affecting my ability to work," she said. "I'm concerned that I won't be able to pay my bills. I'm currently calling everyone I make monthly payments to see if I can get them deferred. As far as I know our office is staying open. But the downfall is that as a massage therapist, I only get paid when the patients show up for their appointments. I'm really hoping that there will be some plan put into place to help people like me when we become completely unable to work." Out of her eight scheduled clients on Monday, two showed.

Those in the restaurant industry had little time to prepare for the worst, as Gov. Kate Brown announced Monday afternoon that all restaurants and bars would be limited to delivery and takeout starting the next day. While expedited unemployment will be available to those who need it, fear of financial insecurity is hitting hard. 

"My initial reaction was shock," said Justine Meyer, a bartender at The Lemon Tree in downtown Bend. "I guess I didn't really grasp the severity of the situation, or the serious effects it would have on my livelihood." The Lemon Tree is offering services, though the number of staff members is reduced dramatically. "They're going to do curbside orders and take-out orders only, though everyone is called off of work until further notice." She explained that her panic was amplified when she found the unemployment website had crashed moments after Brown's announcement. "I think that I should be able to file for unemployment, but the site is unavailable... as I'm sure everyone is panicking and trying to file as soon as possible."

Layoffs are sweeping across the state. "I have to think about who still has a job, it's that bad," said Portland local and previous Crush Bar employee Andrew Madrigal. "It's really bad here. So many people got laid off yesterday in the restaurant industry. Most of my friends are in the service industry, and only managers still have their jobs as far as I know." 

Tom Thurman, a server at the ever-busy McKay Cottage, was surprised to hear that restaurants were shutting down operations completely. "I thought maybe they'd implement a curfew like some other places have," he said. "I'm just trying to handle things as they come and not lose it, waiting for everyone to stop panic buying and then get stuff in order." He noted that he hadn't seen business slow down much over the weekend, but he had noticed that there were cars "lined up around the block" at fast food joints.

"I've got a reasonable landlord," said Thurman. "It's not some faceless company, you know. I think if my living situation was different, I'd be a lot more on edge. As far as expenses go, I'm covered for about a month. After that I'll start to get pretty worried."

He offered one last piece of advice. "We've just got to do what we can to trust our fellow man. Take a deep breath. Unless you're around someone that's infected—then take more shallow breath." 

The unemployment information page on Oregon.gov takes COVID-19 related layoffs into consideration. The page reads, "The Oregon Employment Department provides Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits to most workers who are out of work through no fault of their own. To get benefits, workers must meet some requirements. In general, to receive UI benefits for a week, you must be able to work, be available for work, and look for work you can do." 

On Tuesday morning, Trump announced tentative plans to allot those being hard hit with a government-funded $1,000 stipend in attempts to offset costs of living.

This story will be updated online at bendsource.com as more information becomes available.

For more information, see:
Oregon Unemployment Insurance Benefits
https://www.oregon.gov/employ/Pages/COVID-19.aspx


About The Author

Cayla Clark

Cayla graduated from UCLA with a degree in playwriting, soon after realizing that playwriting is not a viable career option. Fortunately, this led her to journalism, and she is thrilled to be part of such a unique and fun-loving team. Upcoming local events? Send them her way!

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