*Melissa Johnson is a 34-year-old restaurant worker in California who was recently laid off due to the coronavirus.
MN: Over the last few days, government officials have taken drastic, but necessary measures to contain the outbreak. Some of those measures required business owners to lay off their staff. Can you talk about that process—from when you learned you would be laid off, until now. Are you without insurance/ needed resources?
MJ: My employer told us on Monday, March 16, that due to government mandates the restaurant would be moving to a to-go food model only until March 31st. My understanding of this meant that I would no longer be on the schedule [and] therefore would not be paid. Honestly, this did not come as a shock to me, as I had heard that other cities had already implemented this rule to ensure public health. I applaud our state & local leaders for doing what was best to keep the staff and customers safe. While I was working at the restaurant I did have insurance through the end of 2020, now that I am “laid off” I am unsure if I still have access to those benefits. We did get information on unemployment. I signed up on Monday [March 16] [to] file an unemployment insurance claim which can provide partial wage replacement benefit payments to workers who lose their job or have their hours reduced, through no fault of their own. I registered and filed my claim—still waiting to hear back on what will be available to me.
MN: When it comes to Black families and communities, Black women hold many customer facing positions and are seen as the backbone of the family. What are the concerns you have for Black women in this global health crisis as a collective, and what precautions have you taken to keep yourself safe/healthy?
MJ: My first concern is that Black women will be asked to continue to work in unsafe working conditions [and] increase their chances of catching this virus. Our health [and] the health of our families should be the number one priority—stay home! My second concern is Black women not having the financial support necessary to sustain their livelihood while being out of work due to this pandemic. We will need quick [and] sufficient financial relief from our employers [and] our government to keep us from financial ruin. Another concern I have is state of our healthcare system, we need to make sure our black women have adequate [and] affordable heath care coverage to ensure we are well taken care of if we do contract this virus.
MN: Lastly, is there anything you pledge to do as a community member to help others who may be underserved?
MJ: I pledge to work with my local food banks to donate meals to those who are in need.
*MN used the alias “Melissa Johnson” to ensure privacy.