ITHACA, N.Y.—Workers at one of Ithaca’s most popular restaurants have delivered a list of conditions they want Collegetown Bagels (CTB) management to implement going forward while the coronavirus pandemic continues.
Representatives of the workers at CTB have collected 1,063 signatures, 28 from employees and the rest from community members, on their petition that calls for the reforms to be made immediately. They are calling the petition “CTB/Ithaca Bakery Workers for COVID-19 Safety (Customer Solidarity Petition).” The demands, they say, are a reaction to the government’s ineptitude in addressing the coronavirus an overall fears they have about being essential workers during the pandemic, particularly as case numbers worsen by the day in Tompkins County.
The petition is straight forward, making five demands: a $2 per hour (minimum) bump in wages as hazard pay; closure of indoor dining until a vaccine is widely available; a comprehensive protocol in case an employee tests positive; more physical barriers in each location; and assigning a rotation of workers to oversee COVID compliance responsibilities. It can be read in full here.
“The foundation of these demands is a bedrock of respect and an investment in making a beloved company the best it can be, and we do not intend to cause harm or negativity in stating them,” the workers wrote. “It is our sincerest hope that we will be listened to, respected, and can reach the safest consensus possible.”
The document argues that each worker at the establishment has proven themselves more valuable than their current pay during the pandemic, having braved the rampant uncertainty and heightened danger to ensure the restaurant is open every day, and that should be enough reason to raise their pay (beyond the additional safety concerns)—aside from the fact that base salary at the store is $12.25 per hour, which will be below the state minimum wage of $12.50 per hour on Jan. 1, 2021. The petition contains explanations for each of their demands, and workers said they had scheduled a meeting with CTB management on Friday.
“We feel like [the demands] are really universally reasonable, understandable and very straight forward,” said Mattie Hause, a CTB employee and one of the signatories of the petition. She noted that workers have formulated their own plan for the possibility of an employee testing positive for COVID-19 and plan to present it to management at the meeting on Friday. “But also we just want to create a space for anybody, past or current employees, to share their experiences with the company, whether those are positive or negative or anywhere in between. Just to really show the collective force, that it’s not just a small group of people, but that it’s a general feeling in the company.”
Fellow worker Julia Dreitzer echoed those sentiments. She said that workers felt pushed to come forward as cases began to once again ascend locally, as the county now has a record high number of active cases but indoor-dining remains operational.
“We as workers have felt unimpressed and dare I say even abandoned by the company’s lack of cohesive COVID-19 standards,” Dreitzer said. “We felt the impetus to take this into our own hands and create this petition.”
Hause said, at least currently, there aren’t concrete plans to enact a work stoppage if their demands aren’t met, but that the workers believe that the community support shown so far proves that the value they bring to the community should be enough leverage to have workers’ needs met.
“We’re prepared to do what we need to do to get what we need,” she said.
Instead of providing an interview or answers to questions, CTB management chose to compose a statement responding to requests for comment and worker concerns. It’s available to read in full at the bottom of this page. The CTB administration effusively praised their workers, while still lamenting the fact that some decided to go public with their concerns instead of addressing them within the company. They also noted the steps they took early on in the pandemic, including installing some physical barriers, instituting curbside pick-up systems, implementing a mask mandate, etc.
“Much of what was done was above and beyond what was required by any law or agency,” the company wrote. “We understood well that, beyond the caring we had for our staff and customers, the business would not survive if not for the continued good health of those who entered to purchase food or to work. Compliance with all of the safety procedures has been monitored constantly throughout the day on an every day basis by both management and owners.”
The company essentially went on to say that they wouldn’t respond to the employees’ demands in any public manner, opting instead to do so in a closed meeting.
“While the letter to the owners from some staff members regarding demands in relation to Covid-19, made public through Facebook and now through the media, contains some very valid concerns as well as some inaccuracies, we will not be debating those in a public forum as we feel that would be both disrespectful and inappropriate,” said the note, which was unsigned but sent by Gregar and Ramsey Brous, two of the co-owners of CTB and Ithaca Bakery. “Suffice to say, every issue raised will absolutely be taken to heart and thoroughly discussed and considered internally at every level as we seek to remain a local institution with deep roots and a long track record of fairness, sensitivity, respect and generosity in the business and the greater Ithaca community.”