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South Bay businesses are ready to open up. They just need workers

By Tim Henry - Published on June 03, 2021.

As South Bay counties continue to ease COVID restrictions — and as the California economy is on the verge of a full reopening — the Bay Area, and the nation, faces a worker shortage crisis. With the number of available jobs far exceeding the number of available workers, several businesses are struggling to staff reopenings, potentially threatening the speed and vitality of the recovery. 

After being furloughed or laid off outright, many South Bay servers and bartenders have changed careers or "simply moved on," according to KRON4. There is widespread speculation that extended unemployment benefits — which will continue to include a federal bonus of $300-per week through September — have kept many laid-off workers from looking for jobs. One San Jose pizza shop owner tells NBC Bay Area that finding new employees has been challenging. Kirk Vartan, founder of the worker-owned cooperative "A Slice of New York," says that he was offering no-experience-required jobs for up to $20 an hour — but that no one was applying. "Even though [the wage] might not be quite as much as coming back to work with unemployment benefits, I think that’s probably the cause," Vartan told NBC of the dearth of applicants.

With fears about the labor force on one side, there's also connern about returning to lost jobs. The city of San Jose is trying to facilitate the return to work with the recently passed "Return Together" ordinance, which requires San Jose hospitality employers to rehire janitors and hotel, event and airport workers when businesses reopen, according to San Jose Spotlight. Rehiring mandates will be based on how long individuals have worked for the employer in question. The Return Together law is meant to supplement a California state law — Senate Bill No. 93 — which would require employers statewide to rehire about 700,000 laid-off hospitality workers. The new ordinance provides a "right of action" where employees can file civil lawsuits if they're not offered their jobs back. A labor representative called Return Together an ineffectual law that would put the burden of action solely on employees, because city agencies, who would normally handle wage-related claims, have been overburdened and understaffed during the pandemic, as San Jose Spotlight reports.

The dearth of willing workers in the South Bay is part of a record nationwide labor shortage. According to Marketplace, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce reports that there 8.1 million jobs available — an all-time high — but not enough available workers who are able or willing to take those jobs. “As we stand on the cusp of what could be a great American resurgence, a worker shortage is holding back job creators across the country,” the Chamber of Commerce President said, calling the current paradigm a "worker shortage crisis." The U.S. COC said that the labor shortage began before the pandemic, but was exacerbated by the partially closed economy. "91% of state and local chambers of commerce say worker shortages are holding back their economies; 83% percent of industry association economists say employers in their sectors are finding it more difficult to fill jobs than they were five years ago."

The labor "shortage" is, to some degree, a matter of perspective, according to Marketplace, who quoted the managing director for Economic Policy at the American Center for Progress: "There are enough workers for the jobs, but there are a shortage of jobs that are good enough to take right now." Marketplace said that teenage employment is at levels that haven't been seen since before the financial crisis in 2008, and will likely continue to boom this summer.  

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