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Austin Restaurant Workers Rally to Demand an Extension of $600 Unemployment Pandemic Checks

The rally is taking place outside of Texas Senator John Cornyn’s office on Friday

An employee using a cash register while wearing gloves
An employee using a cash register while wearing gloves
Nadia Chaudhury is the editor of Eater Austin covering food and pop culture, as well as a photographer, writer, and frequent panel moderator and podcast guest.

Austin restaurant, service, and hospitality workers are calling for an extension of the federal government’s expanded unemployment benefits due to the novel coronavirus pandemic — which amounts to $600 a week — that are set to expire at the end of this month. Members of the Austin chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) will gather for a rally in downtown Austin this week. It takes place on Friday, July 24 from 5 to 7 p.m. in front of Texas Senator John Cornyn’s office at 221 West Sixth Street.

The rally is part of the Restaurant Organizing Project (ROP) from DSA’s Labor Commission. ROP is an initiative to help support the service industry during a time of staggering unemployment rates because of the pandemic.

People who have managed to secure unemployment benefits — many of which are restaurant workers who have been laid off or furloughed during the earlier mandated dining room closures and current limited dining service, received the additional check on top of the regular unemployment payment. The supplementary check is part of the CARES act, the massive coronavirus stimulus package that was enacted in March. (The average Texas unemployment benefit rate is $246, as reported by Houston Chronicle in April.)

“Our industry,” said Chris Himelblau, one of the lead organizers of the Austin chapter of ROP, referring to the service industry, “is the most affected by this pandemic, leaving millions out of work for the long and short term. With so much uncertainty in an already precarious field, the extra $600/week unemployment benefit has been essential.”

Texas Sen. Cornyn is being targeted by the rally because he is involved in creating the next novel coronavirus relief legislation. The Republican Senate has been pushing for more benefits for corporations rather than individuals.

“We wanted to make sure that he feels the heat from the working class people,” said Himelblau, “who are relying on him and his colleagues to make the prudent and compassionate choice to extend the Federal Unemployment Benefits for those who are unable to return to work — who shouldn’t be forced to return to work during a deadly pandemic at the threat of eviction and starvation.”

The Friday evening rally will shift into a march across the Congress Avenue bridge and down South Congress Avenue, “to show solidarity to the workers who are being forced to work during a global pandemic” along of the busier stretches of Austin, noted the Facebook event page. There are planned speakers to be announced closer to the event. COVID-19 mitigation is being implemented: people are asked to wear masks and social distance.

For those who aren’t comfortable participating in a public event because of the pandemic, Austin DSA is also organizing a call-in campaign to Sen. Coryn’s offices both in Washington, D.C. and Austin that same day. People who are interested in taking part are encouraged to sign up online.

Coordinating the rally on a national scale (Dallas, Denver, Las Vegas) is the labor union Restaurant Workers United.