Austin: Via 313 Restaurant Workers Protest Management Retaliation, Demand Paid Sick Leave, Better Pandemic Health Measures

By Josefina Morales

On Saturday, workers at pizza chain Via 313 staged a protest at the Guadalupe St. location during midday, drawing strong community support. The workers were protesting management retaliation and demanding better safety and health measures related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The workers also demanded the reinstatement of four workers who were suspended after submitting a petition to management on January 5. On Tuesday, it was reported that the suspended workers were reinstated, along with receiving compensation for the missed wages.

The petition, signed by 46 employees, demanded sick pay, hazard pay, and COVID-19 safety measures in light of the high transmission rate of the Omicron variant and the ongoing failed pandemic response by the US ruling class. In response to sending the petition company-wide and refusing to speak with upper management one-on-one, four workers were escorted off the job “like criminals,” as one worker said. The four workers were suspended without pay.

The company claims the workers were suspended for “creating a hostile work environment,” but the workers say the company is lying, and that it was clear retaliation against workers for organizing. Via 313 claims it is conducting an “internal investigation” and has disabled comments on its social media pages, where many customers and supporters were denouncing the company’s actions against the workers.

The recent petition is not the first that workers have submitted to management. One month ago, workers submitted a petition opposing the implementation of a new clocking system that used facial scanning technology, and successfully forced ownership to drop the software. The owners’ recent retaliation demonstrates a more forceful response to the workers’ organizing, as the demand for sick days and hazard pay affects their profit more than conceding to remove the invasive software.

The workers say that COVID-19 has infected a large portion of their coworkers in the last two weeks. Rather than notify employees if they had been in contact with infected co-workers, restaurant management instead responded by limiting restaurant hours.

Gathered in a parking lot facing the restaurant on Saturday, workers and their supporters chanted, “No sick pay, no peace!” and “Bosses are the criminals!” One worker held a sign reading “Workers needs before corporate greed” and another held one reading “Exploit style pizza sold here,” a play on the “Detroit-style” pizza sold at Via 313.

“I think they can hear us in there now,” said one worker on the megaphone, directly addressing managers inside who were observing from inside the restaurant. “It’s disgraceful that you’re standing there staring at us, refusing to give us what we ask for.”

Via 313 is owned by brothers Zane and Brandon Hunt, originating from a food trailer started in Austin. The company was recently backed by the private equity firm Savory Restaurant Fund, and is expanding into other cities in Texas as well as opening locations in Utah, Colorado, and Nevada. Workers say this clearly demonstrates that the company has the resources to meet their demands. “Shiny new stores, shitty old wages,” was one sign seen at the protest.

One kitchen worker told attendees about the hazards that cooks and dishwashers face, stating that many other restaurants in Austin are equally hazardous for their back-of-house workers. They do not have adequate health benefits, the worker said, adding, “We are completely disposable to them.”

A Via 313 worker confirmed to Tribune on Tuesday that the four workers had been reinstated and were going to receive wages for the time that management prevented them from working. The bosses are clearly shaken by the united workers and the community solidarity behind them, and the workers say they will persist in their struggle to fight for the rest of their demands.

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