a slice of pandemic life

Employees of popular Austin pizzeria protest working conditions amid COVID surge

Employees of Austin pizzeria protest conditions amid COVID surge

Via 313 North Campus Austin
The spat between Via 313 and some employees rages on. Via 313/Facebook

KVUE — Restaurant workers at Via 313 Pizzeria are asking for paid sick time during the ongoing surge of omicron COVID-19 cases.

On Saturday, January 8, some employees protested in the streets of downtown Austin. Many say they feel pressure to go into work sick without the benefit.

Organizers of the protest allege management retaliated by suspending workers who were asking for sick pay, hazard pay, and COVID-19 safety measures. Supporters said 46 employees signed a petition asking for safety protocols.

“Via 313 has failed to adequately protect the health and safety of its employees and customers during the pandemic,” the group said. “In the last two weeks alone, at least 15 workers have contracted the virus. Management failed to properly notify those in close contact. Unaware of their exposure, many potentially infected employees kept showing up to work and spread the virus further. Via does not offer paid COVID leave, so sick workers are struggling to pay their rent and other bills.”

District 2 Austin City Council member Vanessa Fuentes backed up the workers on social media, calling on management to hold an open conversation with workers about possible changes.

“I stand in solidarity with their demands for paid sick time and safety amid this omicron surge,” she said.

In response to requests for comment, Via 313 provided the following response:

“We at Via 313 Pizzeria care deeply about our employees. Their health and safety is top priority. Like everyone, this is our first time facing a global pandemic, and with that comes a learning curve. Since March of 2020, we have followed CDC guidelines, along with federal and state regulations, mandates, and protocols to protect the health of our team and guests.   

“We are aware of certain employee allegations and take their concerns seriously. No employees have been suspended or terminated for signing a petition that was submitted to the company. The employees who were suspended allegedly created a hostile work environment that made others feel unsafe. As a result, those employees have been suspended pending an internal investigation.

“Along with our peers in the hospitality industry, we continually evaluate efforts needed to provide a safe environment. We have a team dedicated to COVID-19 protocols to ensure the safety of not only our team, but our customers. As we strive to have an open and transparent culture in our company, we welcome suggestions and recommendations made by our employees. Senior staff has been onsite at our various restaurants over the last two weeks to assist and answer COVID-related concerns and questions raised by our employees. We always encourage open communication, but we cannot condone hostility in the workplace for our other team members. We are not only reviewing our safety protocols daily but are also working with management to review our paid sick leave policy and other allowances that further support and protect our employees.”

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