This week, the LA City Council is expected to vote on one of the strictest COVID-19 vaccine policies in the country.
Under the proposal, vaccine-eligible people would need to show proof of inoculation to enter many indoor public spaces, including restaurants, bars, sports arenas, nail salons, and museums.
While mixing and mingling while unvaccinated is risky, California Restaurant Association President and CEO Jot Condie says the strict policy introduces a whole different kind of risk: violence against staff. He talks to KCRW about what he thinks needs to be done.
KCRW: What are your thoughts on the new vaccine mandate proposed by the City of LA?
Jot Condie: “We do sort of understand what they're [the City of LA] trying to get out here, and I think as an industry, there's great frustration that we're sort of at this point where … too many still are unvaccinated.
The challenge that we see in essentially being the frontline workers — the frontline enforcers for this measure — is the safety issue we've seen headlines recently.
Obviously, there seems to be a civility deficit, society-wide. We've ... read stories about diners in New York visiting and taking it out physically on a hostess who asked simply for the vaccine card.
We're experiencing [this] in some other parts of California, [like] San Francisco, [where] the city [has] enacted a similar type of measure and there's a lot of safety concerns.
You're asking 20-something-year-old greeters, or hosts or hostesses, in a restaurant to serve on the frontlines of what, sadly, has become a white-hot political issue.
The anti-vaxxer people ... some of whom … don't have a problem with making a scene, and that's creating all sorts of challenges for restaurants.”
Who do you think should be enforcing these rules?
“We had suggested to some cities that ... if they're going to create an ordinance like this ... given the risks around the frontline enforcement, that there should be some other mechanism. The local government [should] send health department people to run interference.
I know that's a huge resource challenge, but to ask workers and small business owners who are in the hospitality business to all of a sudden become an enforcer … it’s [a] bit much to ask.”
Should taxpayers be paying to protect the majority from a very vocal minority?
“It's unfortunate that you need to even contemplate having someone essentially be an enforcer or a bouncer to protect the safety of workers.
That's obviously a question that the cities would have to contemplate. But … if you're talking about a very important public health goal ... there's these safety concerns. [It’s] something that cities should seriously consider.”
What policies should be in place to help restaurants?
“There was an instance … where school bus drivers were being accosted and assaulted by either kids or parents. And the state passed sentence enhancements for anybody that was sort of getting in the way of a bus driver doing their job.
I'm not saying that they had to do this for restaurant workers, but there are probably pages of penal code that have provisions of law that district attorneys or prosecutors could use to go after unruly customers who are getting in the way of a restaurant worker who's doing what they've been told to do by a city.
… It would be nice to hear our district attorneys or our prosecutors make very public statements that they will use the law and aggressively prosecute anybody who violates or physically attacks a restaurant worker who is checking vaccine status.”
San Francisco has had a similar vaccine mandate since August. How has it been going there?
“It's clunky and the first few weeks … there [were] a lot of customers who just weren't conditioned to bring their vaccine card. ... There [were] a lot of reports of … verbal violence. … A server or a host or hostess may not be physically assaulted, but to put up with someone who wants to make a scene and be a jerk to make a political statement of some kind, that wears on a young hospitality worker.”
Do you worry that these vaccine mandates could prompt some workers to leave the restaurant industry?
“We have had reports of workers in our industry who have left because of the stress of … the mask mandates that have been enforced for a while, and there's still a lot of tension around that with some customers. And there’s a lot of fatigue.”