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

IVANVIEITO/iStockBy EMILY SHAPIRO, ABC News

(AUSTIN, Texas) — Texas service workers are converging 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.

“We are still urging people to continue to wear the mask,” Abbott told ABC Houston station KTRK last week, but he stressed that Texans “no longer need government running our lives.”

Abbott added, “If businesses don’t feel safe opening, they should not be required to.”

Monday afternoon’s rally is 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.

“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.

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.

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.”

“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,” Maher said.

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.

The rally is set for 1 p.m. local time.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.