Hiring problems continue for local businesses

By: Kristyne E. Demske | C&G Newspapers | Published June 22, 2021

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MACOMB COUNTY — Prior to March 2020, Harold Norris had no problem finding people willing to work for his pizza business.

The COVID-19 pandemic changed all of that, and now the owner of Hungry Howies, 35410 Jefferson Ave., in Harrison Township, said he’s having trouble finding people to work.

“Mainly, it’s with drivers,” he said. “I’m not sure if it’s because of COVID, with the unemployment, or now that they have DoorDash or GrubHub.”

Anecdotally, he said, it’s been hard to hire since the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance was instituted along with an extra $600 in weekly federal unemployment benefits, which are now $300 per week. Those federal benefits are set to expire Sept. 4.

“I’m hiring all the time,” he said. “For insiders, I’m not having that hard of a time. It’s still hard, but not nearly as hard as the drivers.”

The lack of employees shows itself in service to customers, with delivery times growing.

“It used to be a half hour to 40 minutes. Now, you’re looking at an hour to an hour and 15 minutes,” he said. “If I was staffed more appropriately, I could get it there sooner, and that’s what we’re striving for.”

Along with the added federal benefits, Norris said he thought the fact that, until the first week of June, those on unemployment didn’t have to show they were looking for a job played a role in his difficulties, as well.

“Now you have to do a work search,” he said. “Hopefully, now, we’ll start seeing people apply.”

It’s not just retailers and restaurants that are having trouble finding employees, said Kelley Lovati, CEO of the Macomb County Chamber, 28 First St. in Mount Clemens.

“Our businesses, our members, are very much struggling in most industries,” she said. “A lot of it, frankly, has to do with the unemployment benefits that are being offered to employees.”

The fact that the American Rescue Plan now also calls for employees to receive fully subsidized health insurance through COBRA, with employers being reimbursed for costs through a refundable tax credit, from April 1 to Sept. 1, is “making it less attractive for people to come back to work,” she said.

Lovati said she has heard from her members that some restaurant owners are now cooking because they can’t find employees, and even those who are raising wages and offering signing bonuses aren’t necessarily having any better luck. She mentioned a fast-food chain in New Baltimore hiring at $12 an hour and offering a $500 signing bonus.

“I’m telling some restaurants, even that is not enough to get people to come in,” Lovati said. “They’re still not attractive enough to sign.”

It’s affecting all facets of business: delivery times for items in production are longer and, in the case of retail and restaurants, some have reduced their hours of operation.

“The people who want to work can only work so much, so a lot of time, you’re seeing reduced hours, reduced days of operation,” she explained.

Unemployment benefits were a good thing when people couldn’t find jobs and it wasn’t safe to return to the workplace, but that is not the case now, Lovati said. She pointed to the availability of vaccines and the low COVID-19 case numbers as metrics that show “it’s time to get back to work.”

“If we can follow the (Centers for Disease Control) and (Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration), they are still talking about following safe practices,” she said. “We can go back to work safely. We need to. As a country, we have to.

“I think the most impactful way is to talk to our legislators, let them know what our businesses are facing, and then get that unemployment reduced for those who can return to work safely.”

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