As ‘Shelter in Place' Order Looms, Dallas' Service Industry Workers Consider Uncertain Future

A shelter in place order goes into effect in Dallas County at 11:59 p.m. Monday

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As Dallas County prepares to all but shut down Monday night, thousands of service industry workers are grappling with a new reality that seems increasingly hard to change.

“We are kind of going through the stages of grief,” Benj Pocta, a laid off restaurant worker, said. “We (service industry workers) have lost our health insurance, we have lost our income and we have become isolated.”

Even before Dallas County decided to issue a “shelter in place” order, city and county ordinances limiting crowd size forced restaurants and bars to shutter. In Pocta’s case, it was sudden and came with no safety net or help from his employer.

“We are angry at the scenario that has used our labor and then cut us loose so easily,” he said. “These places that have let us go won’t go up again without our labor, it’s our labor that built these places.”

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins answered questions Monday to clarify what is and isn’t prohibited after the county’s shelter-in-place order goes into effect.

For others, like bartender Mary Highfill, to-go orders at the family-owned restaurant where she works have provided a respite from the unemployment many others are now facing.

“I am one of the more lucky ones,” Highfill said. “If you lose your job as a server or bartender your money is cut off immediately and your money is gone.”

Many in the industry hope that when things do return to normal, the workforce will be better treated, especially by corporate owners. In the meantime, Pocta said it’s up to everyone in the service industry to take care of each other in a time of uncertainty unlike any before.

“I think we are also in a situation where we have to be as optimistic as we can be about it and that includes being optimistic about each other,” Pocta said.

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