Texas service workers demand vaccine access, protest end to mask order

EMILY SHAPIRO
·3 min read

Texas service workers converged outside the Capitol building in Austin on Monday to request vaccine access and demand that the state's mask mandate stay in place until that happens.

On March 2, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced an end to the state's mask order starting March 10. Businesses can reopen at full capacity, he said.

Monday afternoon's rally was hosted by the Restaurant Organizing Project, Emergency Workplace Organizing Committee, Austin Mutual Aid and Texas Amplified Sound Coalition, which claim that Abbott's insistence on ending the mask order shows that he's willing to sacrifice the lives of restaurant workers, grocery workers and other essential service employees.

MORE: Texas governor on ending mask order: 'We no longer need government running our lives'

"In addition to us now facing an increased risk of COVID-19 exposure, we now face increased risk of violence and abuse from customers who will not adhere to our store policies to continue mask policies until the CDC advises us they are no longer needed," the groups said in a statement Monday.

The advocates want 70% of essential service workers, from bartenders to delivery drivers to hotel workers, to be vaccinated before Texas fully opens and the mask mandate is dropped, Crystal Maher, a rally organizer, told ABC News before the event.

PHOTO: Service industry workers in Austin gathered to protest Gov. Greg Abbott's lifting of all COVID-19 restrictions, March 8, 2021. (KVUE)
PHOTO: Service industry workers in Austin gathered to protest Gov. Greg Abbott's lifting of all COVID-19 restrictions, March 8, 2021. (KVUE)

Maher, a server and cashier at an Austin pizza shop, said she hopes the rally empowers essential workers to stand up for their health and employment rights.

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Texas politicians are "not doing one thing to help us get back to work safely and efficiently," Maher said. "They're just trying to get open, get money."

"We're replaceable to them," she said. "We've had enough."

One sign at the rally said: "We won't die to serve you."

"Service workers in Texas have been on the frontlines of this pandemic since day one," Liz, an Austin service worker who did not give her last name, told the crowd at the rally. "We have endured hazardous work environments with no compensation for the risk that we have taken. And those that are meant to serve us, our politicians, have shown us that they are not willing to take profit losses, even if means saving our lives."

MORE: Study shows link between mask mandates, reduced COVID-19 spread

"Greg Abbott has decided to reopen the Texas economy without the consent of those that carry it on their backs," she said.

Abbott told ABC Houston station KTRK last week that "all the metrics are moving in the right direction" and "the numbers are adequate for people to be able to go back to work, open up and get back to a sense of normalcy."

Abbott added, "If businesses don't feel safe opening, they should not be required to."

Maher told ABC News, "We currently have a petition that is going around that we need signed because we need to put pressure on the [state's] Vaccine Allocation Panel to actually reclassify us to get us even eligible to receive a vaccine."

Service worker Karen Hamilton said at the rally that she was forced to quit her job because the business is "opening up 100%" and she has a heart condition and an auto-immune disease that makes her more susceptible COVID-19. Though she qualifies for a vaccine, Hamilton said she hasn't been able to schedule an appointment yet.

Texans currently eligible for vaccines are: front-line health care workers, long-term care residents, school and child care personnel, people 65 and older and people under 65 with specific health conditions.

Texas service workers demand vaccine access, protest end to mask order originally appeared on abcnews.go.com