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Businesses Face Tough Choices With Employee Shortages

John Raymond, owner of Honest John’s Pizzeria, is pictured with one of his managers, Michael. Honest John’s is just one area business that has faced difficulties finding employees. P-J photos by Nikk Holland

Restaurant and business owners in the region are having a hard time finding employees.

“Due to the ever-increasing challenges of finding staff to work and with the well-being of our current staff at the forefront of our mind, we have decided to close on Sundays until further notice,” AJ Texas Hots posted on Facebook recently.

With a few employees leaving the restaurant due to illness or other job opportunities and a slow pace of receiving applications, AJ’s now faces the issue of being under-staffed. As a way to make up for it, full-time AJ’s employees have been working overtime, which is both hard on the employees and difficult for the business to continue.

Vicki Colwell of AJ’s is convinced that people aren’t applying because of their reluctance to work a minimum-wage job since AJ’s pays their employees $12.50 per hour. Instead, she’s adamant that COVID unemployment pay is the bigger factor in deterring people from working.

AJ’s has hired two more employees, but until they are properly trained, the restaurant is under-staffed and will be closed on Sundays to improve the well-being of the staff on board now.

“Now Hiring” signs can be found posted outside many restaurants and businesses in the area. Many business owners are having difficulty with staffing and hiring.

Jodi Jones of Fifties Grill & Dairy, with two locations on Fairmount Avenue and Washington Street, has also noticed a decrease in the amount of applications the business receives.

“I’m getting more (applications) than I was before based off of my Facebook ad,” Jones said. ” But I used to get applications all the time. Now I’m begging for them. So yeah, it’s definitely different now than other situations.”

Jones believes that the lull in applications is undoubtedly due to the situation that COVID has induced.

“COVID for sure,” Jones said. “With the COVID situation, it’s pretty easy to get unemployment. You can just say you’re not comfortable working because of COVID and pretty much get it (unemployment benefits).”

John Raymond, owner of Honest Johns Pizzeria on Second Street and Fairmount Avenue, is also having issues regarding staffing and hiring. Three weeks ago, Raymond hired two cooks, but both of them wanted under-the-table pay to allow them to collect unemployment benefits.

Hiring workers has been a problem due to the “unemployment issue,” Raymond said.

“It’s a big issue with hiring,” Raymond said. “We’ve had to close temporarily on Mondays at our Fairmount location because my key employees are just stressed out to work the hours that they’ve had to without a full work force.”

It’s not just the Fairmount location that is facing shortages. Raymond is still seeking eight more employees to fill open positions between the two locations.

Raymond is unable to operate the buffet at the Second Street location at its normal hours due to employee shortages.

“We can’t even open up our buffet to the full extent we can,” Raymond said. “We need somebody to actually serve it (the buffet), and we just don’t have that extra person. Right now we’re only doing it Friday and Saturday nights because we don’t have the help to actually serve the buffet.”

Raymond points to stimulus unemployment pay as playing a major role in the shortage of employees at his two restaurants.

“If that wasn’t there, people would have to go out and look for work,” Raymond said. “Plus they’ve extended it through September, and there’s extra money from the federal government.”

Although it’s been tricky finding workers, Raymond is optimistic that it will turn for the better and praised the loyal employees he does have.

“I have 50 employees, and I would say 49 of them … work their butts off and work hard,” Raymond said. “Go to a store like I do and tell the people working, ‘Thanks for working,’ because there are so many that aren’t.”

Dean Wells, owner of Hog Wild BBQ & Grill on Kinzua Road in Warren, said his businesses is one facing staff shortages, which is odd since he’s “never had this happen before.”

“At this time of the year, we’re usually turning away applicants because we are fully staffed,” Wells said. “But something really bizarre is happening.”

Usually, Hog Wild has 10 or 12 staff members at the restaurant, but now they are operating with six.

As the owner, Wells is usually in the office working behind the scenes, but since the recent shortages, he has had to work one or two nights a week. It’s “counter-intuitive” for business, Wells said, since it takes him away from his office responsibilities.

Wells has talked to other owners who are facing the issue, and his intuition is that staffing shortages may be due to COVID-related fears of being in the workplace or COVID unemployment pay that doesn’t necessarily incentivize people to find work.

Wells said potential employees shouldn’t harbor fears regarding COVID since his business took, and continues to take, all necessary precautions regarding COVID. He thinks that after a year of learning COVID regulations, coupled with the rise vaccinations, would have the opposite effect on the hiring process.

Wells said he also pays his employees well, which is another factor that leads to his confusion about the shortage.

In terms of a remedy to the issue, Wells has “no idea” since he has never had this problem, but will continue the search for employees as he has been.

“Sooner or later we’ll find people,” Wells said. “It’s just taking longer than we assumed it would.”

Chris Barmore, owner of Barmore Sellstrom, an auto and tire repair shop on Second Street in Jamestown, has also run in to issues filling open positions at his business, calling it “the absolute worst right now.” He has been looking for applicants for the last three months, and has seventeen employees compared to the usual twenty-one he has on board.

Barmore, like other business owners, points to stimulus unemployment pay as the culprit.

“In my opinion, the government is paying way too much for people to stay home,” Barmore said. “When you give the incentive of unemployment, with an extra $300 on top of that to stay home, people are not going back to work.”

Barmore believes that stimulus unemployment pay is having the adverse effect on businesses like his.

“The government is working in reverse,” Barmore said. “They should be giving people incentives to go to work … not to stay home.”

Before the pandemic, Barmore said he had a number of people applying for positions at his business, so much so that there was no need to seek employees out. The situation now is the complete opposite.

“We’ve been looking for people for the last three months,” Barmore said. “I’ve probably received three applications in the last three months. In normal times … I wouldn’t have to seek out employees. It’s just terrible.”

According to statistics from EmployBridge, the largest industrial staffing company in the U.S., the effects of stimulus unemployment benefits on businesses looking to hire people is profound.

With the base unemployment rate of $360 per week, workers who made $15 per hour are collecting 60% of their wages via unemployment benefits. When the stimulus benefit of an extra $300 per week is added on to the base rate, people are making $660 per week through unemployment payment alone.

On top of that, workers are getting a tax break through the first $10,500 made which is the equivalent to sixteen weeks of tax-free unemployment benefits.

This means that the average person who collects unemployment makes the equivalent to a $21.50 per hour job by staying at home — before taxes.

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