Chicago Restaurants Coalition wants its workers prioritized for vaccination

The coalition is advocating for restaurant employees to get shots ahead of other workers included in Phase 1C.

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Roger Romanelli, the Chicago Restaurants Coalition’s coordinator, speaks during a news conference on Jan. 12, 2021.

Roger Romanelli, the Chicago Restaurants Coalition’s coordinator, speaks during a news conference in January.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times file

The Chicago Restaurants Coalition on Wednesday called for restaurant workers to get vaccinated ahead of other workers eligible under Phase 1C of the vaccine rollout.

The coalition said as people return to restaurants to get back some sense of normalcy, restaurant workers will be at greater risk of exposure to the coronavirus because they interact with customers who don’t wear masks while seated.

“Restaurants take on additional risks with their interactions with guests,” said Dan Conroe, marketing director of City Winery Chicago. “We’re behind the curve. When we requested this several weeks ago that would have been the time to prioritize them.” 

The Chicago Department of Public Health said it is partnering with the Illinois Restaurant Association to host a series of vaccination events beginning in mid-April.

“CDPH has been working with industry partners across the city to ensure that businesses with essential workers are able to have access to a vaccine when it is their turn,” the department said.

The coalition is concerned about having to take a step back as the city’s test positivity rate, now 4.5%, continues to rise.

“None of our businesses can afford to move backward at this point. And frankly, we can’t afford to not move forward with reopening,” Conroe said. “Some of our staff work multiple jobs, and they don’t have a lot of time to play the website game trying to find a vaccine.” 

Len DeFranco, owner of Hawkeyes Bar & Grill, said, “The list is basically, in my opinion, a catchall. Almost everybody else is now eligible to receive the vaccinations, so there really isn’t any priority that I can see at all. I would challenge anybody to think of a worker that would not be included in one of those categories on the list.”

The Chicago Restaurant Coalition’s online press conference Wednesday.

Members of the Chicago Restaurants Coalition, clockwise from upper left. Roger Romanelli, Chicago Restaurants Coalition coordinator; Len DeFranco, owner of Hawkeyes Bar & Grill; Anthony Waller, owner of Catering Out the Box; and Dan Conroe, City Winery Chicago’s marketing director.

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The group also wants City Hall to allocate $20 million from its federal COVID-19 relief funds for 2,000 new $10,000 grants and raise the participation annual revenue cap of businesses eligible to apply.

In November, Lightfoot announced the “Chicago Hospitality Grant Program” which made $10,000 grants available to 1,000 qualifying businesses forced to stop serving indoor customers. The coalition criticized the program’s short application deadline and annual revenue cap of $3 million. 

The coalition suggested a $9 million revenue cap.

“If we lose and continue to lose our restaurants in our city of Chicago, the soul of Chicago is at stake,” said Roger Romanelli, the coalition coordinator. “Our restaurants are essential to our neighborhood survival, safety and jobs. Our restaurants are central to our daily lives.” 

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