‘Our livelihoods are at stake’: Memphis restaurant workers protest health directive that would shut down dining rooms

Restaurant workers protest possible new health directive that would shut down dining rooms for weeks

SHELBY CO., Tenn. (WMC) - As residents and small business owners await an updated Shelby County health directive, many are asking the health department to stay away from large scale shutdowns.

A draft order leaked over the weekend showing the department is considering going back to a stay-at-home order, shutting down indoor dining.

A large group of restaurateurs and wait staff gathered Monday in downtown Memphis to protest such an order. They say they’ve been following guidelines to the letter and support enforcement on those who aren’t, but they don’t support being forced to close.

Several Shelby County commissioners join restaurant workers against new health directive

Shelby County Commissioners Mick Wright and Amber Mills spoke after the protest in support of restaurant workers. They say they are standing up for small businesses.

The proposed directive, which is not finalized, would close all non-essential businesses and ban in-person dining for 2 weeks.

Restaurant workers protest possible new health directive that would shut down dining rooms for weeks

“Our livelihoods are at stake,” said Shawn Danko, owner of Kooky Canuck, at the protest. “We are asking to serve the community in a safe and responsible manner, as we have always done.”

“It’s a violation of the constitution and that’s why we are getting ready to file suit,” said lawyer Duncan Ragsdale.

Ragsdale and fellow lawyer Bill Bruce says they’ve been contacted to represent a group of restaurants ready to file a lawsuit challenging health directive 16 if it is adopted.

“It will close people for good. The people that I know, can’t last, if they can only do takeout,” Ragsdale said.

According to a news release, many local restaurant owners and entrepreneurs reached out to Shelby County leaders. They told county leaders they’re barely holding on financially and explained to them the impact of losing their livelihood and loyal employees.

“Our local restaurants and small businesses need our immediate support. Some of them are in serious trouble now and will not make it if they don’t receive fair and equal treatment from our local health authorities. I’m calling on every citizen to rise to the defense of the neighbors who feed us, employ us and power our economy.”
Shelby County Commissioner Mick Wright
“Small businesses and restaurants need a seat at the table and equal treatment from the Shelby County Health Department. The decisions made by our Health Department directly impact thousands of local families and the small business owners. Everyone agrees we should do our part to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, but we MUST temper the rules with the ability to provide financially for our families.”
Shelby County Commissioner Amber Mills

Earlier this summer, a federal judge ruled in favor of the Shelby County Health Department when some owners of limited-service restaurants challenged a health directive forcing them to close.

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