Skip to main content
Cornell University mobile logo

Worker Institute Blog

Worker with a mask in a restaurant
The Worker Institute brings together researchers, educators and students with practitioners in labor, business and policymaking to address issues related to confronting systemic inequality and building a fair economy, robust democracy and just society. We will share opinion, analysis, research, data, insights and training from our faculty and staff.

Interview with Jazz Salm, a waitress in Broward County, Florida

Jazz Salm

Interview Conducted May 11th, 2020

Introduction:

Jazz Salm has worked in the restaurant industry for approximately 20 years. A devoted singer-songwriter, she spent her entire savings moving to Broward County, Florida just before the crisis began. Due to the COVID crisis, she lost her new job as a waitress at Chili’s just a day after her training ended. It took over a month for her to begin receiving unemployment benefits. While the state wasn’t providing anything, she received some help from ROC-U, an organization she has worked with and supports for providing a voice to restaurant workers in need.

Full Transcription:

Johnnie Kallas: How long have you worked in your field?

Jazz Salm: I’ve been in the restaurant industry since I was 15 years old, so probably 21 years now. I worked for Carrabba's Italian Grill since I was 16, my first job. I worked for them on and off for 16 years. I opened up several stores for them throughout the southeast area. I was with them up until 2019. I have been on and off since then. I went out to the beach and worked on the beach for a little bit. I have always been a waitress. I’m a musician as well, a singer-songwriter. Traveling with my music always helps. I worked for The Hub and Gilligan’s which are both beach restaurants. Then I moved down here to Broward County two months ago before this all happened. I got a job at Chili’s. I worked there for a week and was on the floor one day after training and then we got shut down. I spent my entire savings coming down here moving with my fiancé and searched for a job for a couple of weeks. I got one and then it’s gone.

J: What kind of music do you play?

JS: If John Mayer, Alanis Morissette, and Bonnie Raitt had a love child with a little bit of Dave Matthews Band in there too. Pretty eclectic and a whole bunch of stuff thrown together. I’m a writer, very Alanis Morissette, writing not as angry. I’m the more positive version.

J: That’s really cool. So you belong to Roc-U?

JS: Yeah. No official position. I’ve known about them for a very long time being in the industry for as long as I have. I talked with a friend of mine who I used to open stores about ROC because they would be a good source for us if we needed any questions answered. She went on the website and found that they are helping us out. I went there and filled out a form the day after I was furloughed. I went on there out on a whim and they messaged me. It took them a couple of weeks because they got bombarded and their site shut down. It took a month for them to get everything straight, but they kept in contact with me the entire time. They were the first to help me. When I started with Chili’s I hadn’t worked with them long enough, but they are an awesome corporation. They helped their employees out and gave $45 or $65/day depending on certain hours and tenure. But I was only there for a week so I didn’t qualify for that. It took a month to see anything from unemployment. Then I got $275 about two weeks ago. The week before I got my unemployment, ROC had sent me $225 and they were the only reason I was able to keep my phone on. My internet is from my phone. My family is all over the place. My phone and I was able to get groceries for the week and that was like hitting the lottery, the $225. The week after that, the unemployment started coming in.

The unemployment was absolutely ridiculous. I started my unemployment process the first day we were on lockdown. I sat on the computer from March 16th through March 22nd being kicked off the site every day for eight hours. Getting to the submit part and then all of a sudden having to start all over again because it crashed. That happened 10 or 15 times/day. I started at 5:30 am because the site was so overwhelmed. It kept kicking you off. It wasn’t until March 22nd that I finally got it approved and then it pending until April 22nd. I didn’t know where I was going to land. Everybody has a story that would break your heart at this point. My story is just like everybody else’s. It’s better than a lot of peoples. I’m blessed that I have family. If I would have done this by myself, I don’t know where I would be right now.

JK: Can you describe your work?

JS: I’m a career server. Not many people go into serving, it’s usually just to pay for college. A jump in-jump out situation. It’s an ATM for a lot of people, you get your money and leave. For me, you can make or break somebody’s day. Make people smile and they will enjoy their food more. As the person I am, I feed off it emotionally and mentally. It’s my job and my passion. I am going crazy not having it now. I’m lucky I still have my guitar. It’s the only thing keeping me sane. It’s not just a job for me, it’s a lifestyle. I enjoy making people happy. It’s also part of my culture being Italian. Family atmosphere, always eating and around food conversation. It’s how I was raised. On a day-to-day basis, it was go in, get the job done, make people happy, and make money. Waiting tables is not that difficult nowadays. Back in the day, you had to write tickets out. Now with the computers, you come in, punch your button and get the order out. As long as you know how to do that, you’re golden. For some people, it’s more of an emotional downfall, because we don’t have it. It’s a social thing. That’s my family that I go to work to every day. A lot of people look at it and say that’s not essential, what do we need waitresses for? But when you have a party or gathering you depend on the other person to make or break your event, evening, your mood. I feel it’s very important to have that social step back and have somebody else do that kind of thing for you. You’re paying us to let you relax and chill.

JK: What will need to happen for you to feel comfortable going back to work given the nature of this virus?

JS: The safety concerns are huge. I think I can acknowledge and recognize them a little bit better than anybody who does it as a one-time thing. For me being day in and day out for the last 21 years I see and do things that I know other people will not be doing. Every time you go to a table you need to change your gloves. That means if I were to do it like they want me to do it, which I will because I have been trained well enough to do that and I know about cross-contamination from table-to-table. A lot of people don’t think about that. I would change my gloves every time I touch a plate, a glass, or even grab a napkin off a table. It’s going to be constant and repetitive. I don’t think what we’re supposed to do will be followed 100% and it’s just going to be continuous. Especially if New York can’t open up because the distancing is not possible. If they can’t open up, we’re all screwed. At this point being safe, unless everyone is being followed and watched every time you touch something or scratch your hair, you have to go wash your hands. Has anybody really done that to a T? Now it’s a matter of life and death.

JK: Are restaurants opening up again in Florida?

JS: Miami Dade, Broward County, and the Palm Beach area are all on lockdown until May 18th. All of our counties down here are all playing the monkey see, monkey do game. They’re blind monkeys following blind monkeys at this point. Broward County just had a statement locally that they are waiting to see what Miami Dade does. Palm Beach might be opening up today. They’re all doing this thing and we’re all next to each other. Naples, which is right across the Everglades from us, about an hour-and-a-half to two-hour drive, everyone here on lockdown went there this weekend and they shut it down because everybody is going to everything that is open. Nobody knows what to do. Nobody has any actual facts or tangible solutions to this. 

JK: So how will you navigate this crisis economically?

JS: March 15th was my last actual day working. This has been stressing me out completely. That’s another factor, everybody is so stressed out. I’m trying to take it one moment at a time, one day at a time. The only thing I have to go on right now is when we do open up it’s going to be 25% capacity. We have 30 servers, 20 cooks, five managers at Chili’s just in our one store. Not all of us are going to be on every day. I will maybe get two shifts/week with that many people. Where does that leave me financially? I’m completely screwed. On top of it, I’ve been putting out applications in other areas that have more stability. If this continues, I won’t be able to serve tables anymore. It will be 21 years of my career that will have to change. I’ll have to go somewhere I can be guaranteed the stability and the paycheck. With my hours being cut and not being able to be there every day, my insurance is gone. My insurance is based on how many hours I perform each paycheck. If I don’t have my 35 hours, I’m dropped. I know that’s what’s going to happen not just to me, but everyone who works for their insurance. That’s how the insurance is rolled man, they go by hours. Now you’re cutting my hours and I’m screwed in that area too. I ended up getting my own insurance because I realized no matter what we do I’m going to get dropped. It’s just facts. I’m not going to have the hours. So, I went off and got my own insurance with Florida Blue. I pay $118/month for the bare minimum just to not get charged for it in my taxes.

I don’t foresee the restaurant industry recovering. It’s really hard. I have hope. I’m a very positive person. I love putting it out there. I am really just saddened and I’m at a loss and don’t know what to do because nobody has any information for me.

JK: How long have you been involved with ROC? What else has ROC done?

JS: I’ve known about them for a while and have seen what they did, but until you are a part of it and experienced it personally, can you really understand an organization like that and what they mean? I didn’t realize how imperative that organization is for us. The past couple of months I realized they do wonderful things for people and I want to be a part of that so I continue to help them because they helped me. 

They’ve been doing a lot. For instance, at Applebee’s and a lot of different large corporations that just washed their hands of individuals and people that took care of them. Just the feeling of when you bring something to the table, something will get done. They actually did it in certain areas. They were shown what was going on and they followed through and said no, that’s wrong. We’re going to do something about that. To have some tangible, seeing somebody doing it. All we have been hearing is what we need to do, etc instead of seeing someone doing what they said they would do. That made a huge impression on me. Talking the talk and walking the walk. It’s refreshing to actually see it being done. It gives me hope in humanity especially during all of this crap that’s going on. When I get on their website, I can see things are getting done and people are being heard and acknowledged. ROC gave me that feeling that instead of sitting and talking about it, we’re actually going to help you out and figure out a solution to it. It really eased my heart.

JK: Do you have any additional thoughts?

JS: Just that I know as humans we are all different. We all have different ways of doing different things. The matter of coming together with compassion and putting yourself in other people’s shoes. Not telling them they are right or wrong. Just acknowledging their feelings. If that were brought to the table a little bit more. You are correct, you have the right to your opinion, and I have the right to mine. But let’s agree to something that makes this better for everybody and come together with acknowledgment of other people’s feelings. Being compassionate and trying to find a common ground and, what’s the word I’m looking for…compromise. Come up with acknowledgment of a good compromise that everybody works towards. Take into consideration that you are not them, they are not you. Just acknowledge their feelings.

Subscribe to Email Updates