Post-pandemic labor shortage gives employees the upper hand

The pandemic threw everything except the kitchen sink at servers during the pandemic—public-facing jobs, low pay and desperate employers. After 2020, Brenda Bea left the dining industry for good.

As restaurants shut down in the confusion of the early pandemic days, food service workers were furloughed without pay. Stimulus checks took months to distribute, while the Colorado state unemployment website frequently crashed under an unprecedented barrage of claims.

Bea was furloughed last March by her employer, Uchi Denver, and when restaurants opened again, they asked her to return. As a Black woman, Bea knew her chances of dying from the virus were three times higher than white Americans, partially because Black workers more often fill essential jobs.

“I wasn’t ready because it wasn’t safe,” Bea said, particularly when it came to indoor dining—a sentiment she shared with her coworkers. Bea and the other staff began unionizing, but she said the restaurant owners shut their efforts down swiftly. According to Bea, a group of employees from the restaurant’s locations in Colorado and Texas collaborated on a list of demands that revolved around the safety of their workplaces.

Our news coverage tackles politics and current events with a local perspective. We speak to members of the Denver community to help our audience understand the important issues happening at the city, state and national levels. If you enjoy these stories, please consider becoming a member for free to help support us.