Big Problems with Governor Baker’s Restaurant and Hospitality Reopening Workgroup: No Workers, No Public Health Experts, Little Transparency

Baker’s reopening plan calls for restaurants and hotels to reopen in Phase 2 of his four-phase plan, but the rules for reopening have not yet been spelled out. The same day the Governor released his “Reopening Massachusetts” report, we learned that a “Restaurant and Hospitality workgroup” had already met to begin hammering out the details. It’s abundantly clear that, like Baker’s broader Reopening Advisory Board (RAB), the Governor’s approach to restaurant and hospitality reopening has some serious problems.  

The first problem is the Restaurant and Hospitality workgroup’s total lack of the very people with the most knowledge and the most at stake: public health experts and workers. Of the 13 members, fully 10 represent the interests of employers. The remainder are municipal or state officials, with not one public health expert, worker or worker representative on the list. 

The Administration’s broader reopening plan—informed by the corporate-dominated RAB—ended up falling far short of what is needed to keep workers safe. That plan earned Baker a failing report card from MassCOSH, who pointed out: 

The Administration is… failing to robustly protect everyone who’s going back to work. The failure of this plan isn’t that it is opening up the economy too fast or too slow — its failure lies in the plan’s inability to adequately protect workers and the public from COVID-19.

The employer-heavy makeup of the Restaurant and Hospitality workgroup raises concerns that the restaurant and hospitality-specific guidelines will be equally dangerous. 

Hundreds of thousands of Massachusetts hotel and food service workers have lost work in the past months, and many are worried about the risks of returning to work. They deserve a voice at the table when deciding on the rules to keep them safest.  

The second problem with the Restaurant and Hospitality workgroup is a disturbing lack of transparency.  

It is difficult to find even the most basic information on the workgroup. In fact, the only full listing of the workgroup members we were able to find was behind a paywall at the Boston Business Journal. The restaurant and hospitality group members are not listed on the Governor’s reopening website, and we found little public information about what process or guidelines the workgroup will follow. The Governor’s 29-page “Reopening Massachusetts” report included only a footnote that a “Restaurant and Hospitality workgroup” had been established “to develop procedures for opening.”

The future of restaurants and hotels in Boston is a concern shared by workers, small business owners, and anyone who is looking forward to sitting down to a burger or pho at their favorite place once it is safe to do so. Baker’s restaurant and hospitality workgroup should be sharing information and seeking input from the widest possible range of people, not excluding workers and experts, and working under a shroud of secrecy.  

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