Western Pa. students laid off after closures of non-essential businesses

Written By Dara Collins, Editor-in-Chief

Western Pa. college students are filing for unemployment in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

On the evening on Sunday, March 15, Governor Tom Wolf ordered that all restaurants and bars stop their dine-in services in Allegheny, Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery counties effective 12:01 a.m. on March 16.

Also on March 16, the Wolf administration urged non-essential businesses to close for a minimum of 14 days. These businesses include gyms, concert venues, sporting event venues and hair and nail salons.

On March 17, Emily MacIntyre received a letter from her employer, Millie’s Homemade, that she was laid off, the same day she was supposed to start training to become assistant manager.

“I can no longer save to move out of my mom’s house, so I’m lucky enough I’m not losing security in where I’m living, but I am losing security in the control of my life,” MacIntyre said.

MacIntyre, a junior public relations and advertising major at Point Park, worked as a shift leader at Millie’s. MacIntyre typically worked full-time hours and has become a face of the company, which reflects her nickname, Millie Mac.

“I hit my two year anniversary this March 13, which funny enough is the date they gave me to use as my unemployment date to collect unemployment,” MacIntyre said.

MacIntyre said the lay off was unexpected, but she believes the small company is handling the situation as best as it can.

“Laying us off was very sudden and not communicated as an option that could happen to us,” MacIntyre said. “But they did give very helpful instructions in the layoff document on how to go about collecting unemployment and mentioned separately that they intend to eventually call us back to work but gave no indication as to when that may be a possibility and expect us to get by solely on unemployment until their call.”

Aside from the inability to save money, MacIntyre worries about private loan payments, her phone bill and other varying expenses.

“Some big expenses that have been affected are my neuropsych assessments that I need to follow up on some long term damage I have from a brain injury I had two years ago and dental expenses from some lifelong problems I’ve had with my mouth,” MacIntyre said.

Abbi Slezak, a senior biology major at Duquesne University, is also affected by the government shutdown.

Slezak worked as a part-time server at the Cheesecake Factory, and this June will mark her two year anniversary. 

Although her employer has been communicating with its employees, Slezak remains frustrated with the situation.

“They have been communicating with us every 24 hours or so,” Slezak said. “They originally told us we were still getting paid and are now telling us to file for unemployment. There is a lot of confusion and frustration.”

The part-time gig helped pay her bills while in school.

“I live off-campus, so I worked to pay my bills like rent, utilities and electricity,” Slezak said. “Any money left over was for spending.”

Although Slezak isn’t working and Duquesne now holds classes online, she will remain in Pittsburgh rather than return home to Johnstown, Pa.

“My dad is immunocompromised, so as a safety precaution, I cannot go home,” Slezak said.

Benjamin Saloga, another part-time server and a senior at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, lost his job at the local Applebee’s.

Saloga used the money to pay for bills, spend on outings and create savings. Currently, he and the rest of the Applebee’s staff are playing it by ear as to when the location will reopen.

“My employer has handled the situation very well and has been very open and compassionate,” Saloga said.

Similarly, Cassidy Black, a sophomore at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania, says her Johnstown employer, Valley Dairy Restaurant, has also handled the situation well.

“We got memos frequently from our corporate office with cleaning and sanitizing procedures, signs of COVID-19 and more,” Black said. “My boss was very upset to call employees to tell them that they were out of work for at least two weeks.”

Black, a part-time wait staff member and certified trainer at Valley Dairy, filed for unemployment on March 17 to avoid a heavy impact on pay her car insurance, car payment and college expenses.

“I have some savings that will help me for now because my family can not afford to help, but it won’t last for long and that’s not what I intended on using my savings for,” Black said.

Although the restaurant still offers takeout services, Black’s coworkers and bosses suspect dine-in may remain closed longer than the mandated two weeks.

“We are a little family there and it hurts to not see each other, and we actually have a big group message going to stay in touch right now,” Black said.

Last Thursday, Wolf’s updated order required all non-life-sustaining businesses to close their physical locations effective March 19 at 8 p.m. Enforcement against businesses that did not close began on Saturday, March 21.

Wolf also required restaurants and bars to stop all dine-in services across the state. However, carry-out, delivery and drive-through options may remain available.

As of Monday at 8 p.m, Wolf ordered a stay-at-home order for all residents of Allegheny, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Monroe and Montgomery counties.