Desperate LA Restaurants Boost Pay to Lure Wary Workers

Los Angeles businesses have reopened with signs stating “We’re looking for employees” everywhere.¬†Restaurants are facing a new problem: Workers won’t return to work if they feel like life was pre-Covid.

“We are dealing with a staffing shortage that I have not experienced in my career,” said Skyler Gamble, a manager at Acme Hospitality, which oversees several restaurants in Santa Barbara around two hours’ drive north of Los Angeles.

“Our experience in the last six to nine months as business levels have rebounded, is that fewer and fewer candidates respond to job postings.”

Coronavirus and pandemic restrictions caused a massive slashing of the hospitality industry, which resulted in millions of job losses.

However, restaurateurs who were hoping for a return to normal are in for a rude shock.

There are many classified ads on the internet for waiters, cooks, and bartenders.

Employers who want to hire qualified workers must stand out in an era of major power shifts.

Craig Martin, who owns Cafe 50’s on Santa Monica Boulevard in Los Angeles, has to replace a cook. Faced with a lack of applications, he is offering a $2,000 hiring bonus — $500 per month over four months.

Martin, like many others who are looking to hire, blames the apparent shortage of labor force for pandemic-related unemployment.

He said that many ex-service industry workers are not even considering looking for work.

– ‘Not rushing back’ –

The reality is more complex, said Enrique Lopezlira, director of the low-wage work program at the UC Berkeley Labor Center.

Employers complaining about the market should acknowledge that they are simply unable to find workers “at the wage and quality of job” they are willing to offer, he said.

Many hospitality workers do not receive paid sick leave or health care benefits, and are “still not willing to come back into the labor force because they still feel very much at risk of the virus,” particularly with Covid variants spreading, he said.

Women’s return to work is affected by the issue of childcare, particularly during summer months.

For University of California Berkeley economist Sylvia Allegretto, there is “definitely not a worker shortage.”

Allegretto stated, “But employers find that it is strange that workers are taking their best choices as the economy opens up”

– ‘Abused at work’ –

Kenzie McMillan was a waitress in a Hollywood restaurant before the pandemic.

She lost her job in March 2020 with no warning, no heads-up, and without any compensation.

When her former boss called in June last year asking her to return, she said no. Going back to work would have meant losing her unemployment benefits, and she feared passing the virus to a housemate who has an autoimmune disease.

“It’s not worth it, again I wasn’t getting paid enough,” said the 27 year-old, who did not get medical insurance at the restaurant job, and was getting “tired” from the physical demands of the work.

Allegretto believes that employers will need to be more competitive in order to hire workers.

Acme Hospitality, Martin (of Cafe 50’s) both stated that they have increased their salaries.

But it is “hard to forecast” whether the improved pay and benefits currently on offer in many establishments will remain once the economy fully recovers, which is not likely until late next year, said Lopezlira.

“The whole workforce has changed,” said McMillan, who sees parallels with the #MeToo movement.

Women were exploited “for so long until they were like, ‘oh, actually I don’t have to do this and I can actually say no,'” she said.

McMillan was offered a job at a Hollywood hotel for $17.50 an hour. She also finally has health insurance.

“We’ve realized that we don’t actually have to be abused at work,” she said.

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