Regarding the planned ultimatum by southwestern Pennsylvania bar and restaurant owners

See update for August 7, 2020, at end of post

Dear Governor Tom Wolf,

Since learning yesterday morning—I woke up to this news—of the planned ultimatum by restaurant and bar owners in southwestern Pennsylvania against the restrictions on capacity you’ve imposed due to the COVID-19 pandemic,[1] I’ve been trying to wrap my head around their sheer gall.

It honestly shouldn’t be so hard. It’s not like this is not well trodden ground.

First, their permission to operate is contingent on a regard, not a disregard, for public health. They are prioritizing their profits over the health of the public and of their workers, the latter whom they may unconscionably pay a mere $2.83 per hour. It should go without saying, and I hardly need say it to you, that every person who becomes infected in their establishments,[2] can pass it on to others, including vulnerable others, who had absolutely no say in the recklessness of these owners.

Second, as a society, we rationalize their greed on the risk they assume in operating a business. This connection has become increasingly frayed as, particularly with gig work, risk has increasingly been shifted to workers who reap few benefits and only low pay from the risks they assume. Increasingly, employers, whether they acknowledge they are employers or not,[3] expect to reap vast profits with little or no risk. Even as “small businesses,” these owners enjoy a comfortable middle class (or better) lifestyle that, in a system with little or no social mobility,[4] their workers can only envy, even as, at that $2.83 per hour, workers are all too obviously mere means to employers’ ends.[5]

This proposed ultimatum reflects further progress in that shifting of risk, the risk that in a capitalist society, should be borne by capitalists, not only to their workers, but to the general public.

We need to be clear: Either we are a capitalist society or we are a socialist society. If we are the former, business owners need to understand that they can lose. If we are the latter, then workers need a much better deal and business owners can just take their lumps as the exploitive vultures they are. In neither case should this ultimatum be acceded to.

And given that COVID-19 can be fatal, these business owners should be held responsible for killing people; their culpability is nothing less than reckless if not positively intentional and therefore psychopathic.

Sincerely,

David Benfell, Ph.D.


Update, August 7, 2020: The Southwestern Pennsylvania Restaurant and Tavern Association has sort of—only sort of—backed off its threat to reopen bars and restaurants at full capacity. But man, they whine:

In an emotional speech directed to [Tom] Wolf during the rally, [Joe Tambellini] said he’s been in the restaurant business for 41 years.

“Forty-one years — that’s two life sentences, governor. What? You going to throw me in jail? We can’t do it. We can’t do this. So people are talking about opening up, governor, they’re talking about just opening up. You wanna have them open up on their own or you do want to tweak this mandate and let us do it responsibly?” he said.[6]

So there it is. Joe Tambellini compares running a restaurant to a prison sentence.[7] I’m just not even gonna start.

  1. [1]Dillon Carr, “Restaurants and bars banding together to give Gov. Wolf an ultimatum,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, August 4, 2020, https://triblive.com/local/pittsburgh-allegheny/restaurants-and-bars-banding-together-to-give-gov-wolf-an-ultimatum-thursday/
  2. [2]Ryan Deto, “Pittsburgh’s restaurant workers say they are bearing all the brunt of the region’s coronavirus spike, but are seeing little benefits,” Pittsburgh City Paper, July 29, 2020, https://www.pghcitypaper.com/pittsburgh/pittsburghs-restaurant-workers-say-they-are-bearing-all-the-brunt-of-the-regions-coronavirus-spike-but-are-seeing-little-benefits/Content?oid=17722779
  3. [3]Stephen Caruso, “How a Supreme Court ruling on an Uber driver could remake Pennsylvania’s gig economy,” Pennsylvania Capital-Star, July 29, 2020, https://www.penncapital-star.com/working-the-economy/how-a-supreme-court-ruling-on-an-uber-driver-could-remake-pennsylvanias-gig-economy/; Daniel Wiessner, “Penn. Supreme Court says Uber driver is employee entitled to unemployment benefits,” Westlaw, July 27, 2020, https://today.westlaw.com/Document/I0c1a2c10d05911ea853294a23e704d3f/View/FullText.html
  4. [4]Claude S. Fischer et al., “Why Inequality?” In Great Divides, ed. Thomas M. Shapiro, 3rd ed. (New York: McGraw Hill, 2005), 9-15; Jay MacLeod, “Social Immobility in the Land of Opportunity, in Great Divides, ed. Thomas M. Shapiro, 3rd ed. (New York: McGraw Hill, 2005), 22-26.
  5. [5]As Lawrence N. Hinman observes in Contemporary Moral Issues, 4th ed. (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson, 2013), the commodification and objectification of persons seems inherent to capitalist relations.
  6. [6]Dillon Carr, “Restaurants back down from ultimatum, request meeting with Gov. Wolf,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, August 6, 2020, https://triblive.com/local/pittsburgh-allegheny/restaurants-back-down-from-ultimatum-request-meeting-with-gov-wolf/
  7. [7]Dillon Carr, “Restaurants back down from ultimatum, request meeting with Gov. Wolf,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, August 6, 2020, https://triblive.com/local/pittsburgh-allegheny/restaurants-back-down-from-ultimatum-request-meeting-with-gov-wolf/

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