The lifeline for food service workers during the pandemic

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The California Restaurant Association estimates up to a third of restaurants in the state may close permanently. Photo by Karen Foshay.

Food service jobs nationwide are down 2.5 million since February, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In Southern California, it’s been devastating for the hundreds of thousands of restaurant workers. Many of them are immigrants, and COVID-19 has exposed how few safety nets exist for this labor pool.

Manuel Villanueva is a labor organizer with the nonprofit Restaurant Opportunities Center. Since the pandemic began, he’s been fielding calls 24/7 from out-of-work cooks, dishwashers, and bar hands who don’t have anyone else to turn to.