Labor shortage: Stop treating people like pawns

The “Now Closed” sign stands in stark contrast to the “Now Hiring” sign directly next to it. Unfortunately, this situation now seems to be a reality at many restaurants across the country. Short-staffed and overwhelmed, they are forced to cut hours in order to save costs. There is no doubt that the industry is reeling and that this situation will impact how food service operates in the future. However, this problem is one that could have, and should have, been seen coming from miles away. 

Working in food service is not as easy as it seems, long hours, low wages and rude customers all contribute to an incredibly stressful environment. This paired with the fact that many bosses are not willing to accommodate the needs of their employees leads to an unpleasant experience where the employee feels expendable. At the beginning of the pandemic, many of these suspicions were proven right as laborers were laid-off all across the country with little to no warning or other options. 

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics over 3.6 million jobs were lost in service industries during the peak of the pandemic. Many restaurant owners are blaming the stimulus checks as well as unemployment benefits for their inability to hire people. This is not the case, employees want to feel like they are being treated as people, not pawns. 

For those who have worked in the food industry for a while, it simply is not worth going back to work to be berated by customers, treated as inferior by management and barely earn enough money to survive for two weeks until their next paycheck. There are many other industries out there which are offering much better wages, benefits, and working conditions. Even a middle schooler could explain supply and demand, the desire for a good by the consumer determines the price and how much of that good is produced. In this situation, restaurant owners are demanding more workers, but are not willing to spend the money to make it worthwhile for potential employees. 

Fortunately, this pandemic has changed a lot of people’s perspectives on what a job should be and how the employees should be treated. According to the Pew Research Center, 66% of unemployed Americans ‘seriously considered’ switching career paths during the pandemic. These are unprecedented times in a highly volatile economy which many have realized is actively working against them. Everyone wants to live their “American Dream” but they have realized that it is not going to happen at McDonald’s or Wendy’s. 

The Federal Reserve released their first quarterly report for 2021 which found that the top 1% of households control $41.52 trillion, by comparison the bottom 50% of households control just $2.62 trillion. It is becoming increasingly clear that the way onto Jeff Bezos’ rocket ship is not through picking up an extra job or just working harder, it is mostly luck.

Despite all of this, many restaurateurs feel entitled to people begging to work for them. They cannot seem to wrap their heads around why they are not getting any hires. The impact of COVID-19 will be felt for years to come. It has, and continues to call into question why we do certain things the way we do when there are more viable options.

 Right now, the food service industry is experiencing this first-hand and they will be forced to adapt to the new situation or be forced out by a competitor who is willing to. This Labor Shortage is a good thing, it will lead to better working conditions for food service employees and it even has the potential to go beyond that and impact industries across the board to gain better conditions for workers across the nation.

By Ethan Labelle