Downtown La Crosse student workers experience layoffs amidst COVID-19 pandemic

Downtown La Crosse

Photo retrieved from La Crosse Downtown website.

Kayleigh Marshall, Multimedia Editor

As COVID-19 spreads across the U.S. and states implement lockdowns and closures of non-essential businesses to slow the spread of the virus, the country faces the highest unemployment levels in U.S. history. Among the unemployed are student workers from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse who work at downtown businesses that have had to close or reduce hours.

Photo from Köehler Gerlach

Köehler Gerlach, a waitress at Uno Venti Pizzeria and junior at UWL found out she was laid-off from her job while on a spring break trip to Nashville, TN from her manager rather than the owner of the business.

“When the government said we were all going to be closed, I texted my manager and I asked, ‘Hey are we still open, do I still need to come into work on Saturday?’ and she said ‘No, we’re all closed’ and that I had already been laid off,” said Gerlach.

She was told this on Tuesday, and the following Thursday her boss emailed the staff explaining the situation and helped them file for unemployment.

“I know we’re a pretty small restaurant and I was out of the loop because I was gone, but also there’s not that many of us to keep track of,” said Gerlach. “I was very shocked. But after everything, after the owner reached out he’s been very good about it. I’ve gotten five or six emails since then with updates about what’s going on.”

“I got lucky because I have another job that I work at home over break and stuff, so I’m working with them right now,” said Gerlach.

“The one thing I wish would have been done differently is that we would’ve been told sooner, or I would’ve been told sooner, maybe people feel differently if they were there. But I think after he formally told us everything was handled very well,” said Gerlach.

On April 1, Uno Venti Pizzeria announced on Facebook that they would be open for take-out on Friday and Saturday evenings.

“When all of this started getting more serious, some of my shifts started getting canceled or moved around, or I was getting sent home early from my shifts just depending on the traffic we were getting,” said Julia Van Fleet, a barista at Cabin Coffee in La Crosse and a junior at UWL. “Then once there were actually cases of COVID-19 in La Crosse County, my hours pretty much disappeared, like completely gone.”

Photo from Julia Van Fleet.

Van Fleet said that her boss tried to keep them updated about what was going on and said that these were unprecedented times. She also apologized for people not getting the hours they want or need.

“They’re trying to make the best of this situation because it is a smaller business that they’re trying to keep alive, but sometimes I do wonder if it would just be better if some of the smaller businesses would close just so we could get this done faster,” said Van Fleet. “It’s such a shame and it’s so easy for me to say that because I don’t depend on this income. But I do have coworkers who depend on the Cabin Coffee income so staying open is the best thing for them, and those are the people who are getting the hours. So, I guess I’m not as affected by it and it’s harder for me to see why they’re [Cabin Coffee] staying open.”

“I think it’s just hard to do the right thing all of the time in this situation because it’s just so new and it’s such a crazy time,” said Van Fleet. “We have a smaller staff and I think my bosses feel very connected to their employees, so I think it’s hard for them to watch any of us stress about money or worry about what’s going on.”

“I think they’re trying to support us in the best way that they can, so I think for people like me [who don’t live in La Crosse full-time], I think they realize we might want to be at home with our families, so even though it’s kind of crummy we’re not working, we’re able to go home and spend time with our families,” said Van Fleet.

Cabin Coffee is still open for carryout or delivery through EatStreet or Grubhub.

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