From fast food chains to mid-level eateries to high-end bistros, restaurants are reportedly having trouble luring workers back into the industry after a year of unprecedented upheaval. The so-called labor shortage has reached “crisis” levels, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, but recent numbers released by the Department of Labor paint a more hopeful picture.
The unemployment rate is under 6 percent for the first time since March 2020. While the hospitality industry is still struggling to bounce back, 343,000 jobs were added last month, accounting for 40 percent of the employment gains in June. Still, a persistent narrative remains: Restaurants are experiencing a labor shortage because Americans are choosing to remain unemployed, living off stimulus checks, and exploiting enhanced pandemic-related benefits. This convenient fiction is so pervasive that 27 states, mostly led by Republicans, are withdrawing from federal jobless assistance programs months ahead of September 6 (when state benefits for the long-term unemployed are also set to expire). The decision to withdraw from these programs will impact millions of Americans.
Restaurants appear confused as to how to entice workers back to the industry. Rather than raising wages, for example, some are doling out one-time hiring bonuses or offering free appetizers at job interviews in an effort to bring workers back into the fold. Meanwhile, a survey released in May reported that an estimated 75 percent of workers said they considered leaving the restaurant industry because of low wages and tips.
In all of this hand-wringing about the labor shortage, restaurant workers’ own voices are rarely centered—especially in the South, where state legislatures routinely fail to invest in public services or pass pro-worker laws, creating an inhospitable environment for the low-wage workforce. But workers are fighting these conditions.
Though North Carolina has a long anti-union history, it’s also home to NC Raise Up, a very active branch of the Fight for $15 and a Union—an advocacy organization demanding that corporations increase wages and that state and federal governments step in to mandate a $15 minimum wage. NC Raise Up began in 2013 and for months, fast food workers have led day-long strikes. Most recently, Durham McDonald’s workers went on strike on May 19, a day before the McDonald’s annual shareholder’s meeting. The company made more than $5 billion in profits in 2020, but did not raise wages for its frontline workers.
The Counter spoke to industry workers in North Carolina about the so-called labor shortage plaguing their state and the country at-large. We wanted to know: What does the public not understand about what’s happening in the industry right now? What do they want people to know about why restaurants are struggling to find workers? Opinions varied, but a common thread tied them together: The industry is brutal and it doesn’t pay people enough to endure it.
Read the full article about restaurant workers’ perspectives on the industry by Tina Vasquez at The Counter.
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