Famed restaurateur requires customers and employees to be vaccinated at restaurants

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NEW YORK — Proof of vaccination will be required of all customers and staff at one of the largest restaurant groups in our region, starting Sept. 7.

Union Square Hospitality Group, owned by famed restaurateur Danny Meyer, made the announcement Thursday morning.

“To keep our community safe,” a statement on the company’s website begins, “from Sept. 7, 2021 forward, we are requiring all guests to show proof they are fully vaccinated.” The sentence was in bold print in the statement.

“Our teams are required to be fully vaccinated as well,” the statement continued.

The measure got full-throated support from Mayor Bill de Blasio, who’s also a friend of Meyer, and has worked with him on a variety of New York City reopening projects.

“He’s saying as someone respected in this city and nationally as a business leader, ‘It’s time for the private sector to step up,'” the mayor said at his daily morning briefing. “The public sector is. We’re doing vaccination mandates. More to come. The private sector can do a lot.”

He predicted that this is the first of many vaccination requirements to be put into place by private corporations.

Some experts on employment and labor law agreed.

Arthur Leonard holds an endowed chair in the field at New York Law School.

“A private sector employer makes the rules of the road for his or her business establishment,” Leonard said in an interview.  He added that as long as workers aren’t unionized, a corporation can set the terms for their having to be vaccinated.  

In the case of Union Square Hospitality, he said, those terms are strictly about health.

“This is about protecting the staff from the public,” Leonard said. “This is about protecting the public from the staff.”  

He said that he’s also fond of eating out, and that on a personal level, a directive like the one Meyer made is reassuring.

“Knowing that the owner of the restaurant requires proof of vaccination might make me more willing to eat in a restaurant,” said Leonard.  

Another scholar of labor and employment law, Samuel Estreicher of NYU Law School, said that as more businesses adopt vaccination requirements, workers might be able to dispute them.

Estreicher, who’s also the director of the law school’s Center for Labor and Employment Law, said that regarding vaccinations specifically, the law isn’t set in stone, and businesses may be best off offering options to employees.

“Say, ‘We insist on proof of vaccination,'” Estreicher advised, as a message to employees. “‘If you don’t have it, you are subjecting yourself to periodic testing.’ It’s not foolproof, but I think the way to go, because then, you can always tell the employees you gave them the choice.”

Union Square Hospitality Group’s holdings are an upscale group of restaurants. As such, data shows that its clientele is more likely to be vaccinated anyway.

Still, people who PIX11 News encountered randomly, who were not Union Square patrons, were generally in favor of the vaccination requirement.

“I like it,” said Allia Muhammad.  “It makes me feel comfortable as a vaccinated New Yorker. I’m okay with that.”

Joseph Alt is also a New Yorker, whose feelings were mixed.

“I don’t necessarily really want to walk around with proof” of vaccination, he said, but he added, “I don’t know. It’s a fantastic restaurant, so maybe you should just bring your proof and go enjoy it.”

Randy Klein was walking by the company’s flagship eatery, the Union Square Cafe, when he commented about the new policy.

“I think that everyone should be doing that,” he said. “The fastest way we get out of this thing is more people doing that. So I applaud them.”

Union Hospitality also owns the Shake Shack nationwide chain of restaurants. Meyer said that the vaccination requirement will not apply to them at this time.

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