We are getting another round of stories about restaurant owners complaining that if workers get even the modest leverage they received from a $300/week unemployment benefit people won’t take their jobs. Amazingly, these complaints are often taken at face value as legitimate, when the obvious response is if your jobs pay so poorly and/or are so unpleasant that people have to be desperate to take them, perhaps one or both of these facts about your jobs should be changed? Gaby Del Valle has an excellent article that actually talks to former restaurant employees (as well as some owners who recognize the problem is more complicated), which can act as an antidote to this bullshit:
The fact that Estefanía quit restaurant work and returned makes her a COVID-era rarity. For months, restaurateurs across the country have been sounding the alarm about an industry-wide labor shortage. Managers of small, independent restaurants and big national chains alike have told the press they’re having trouble getting longtime staff to return to their jobs or finding new employees to replace them. Managers and owners are largely blaming their inability to retain — or even re-hire — staff on expanded unemployment benefits designed to mitigate the economic devastation of the pandemic; claims that “no one wants to work” because they’d rather stay home and cash unemployment checks have become commonplace, even though they aren’t entirely accurate.
“I think we’re at a point where people are like, ‘We’re going to have to raise our prices, because we need to pay our employees more money, and we need to offer them benefits when we can,’” Tiedmann said. “We need to make this an attractive business to work in. At the end of the day, it’s all about being able to do more for your employees. But in order to do that, you’re going to have to pay for it somehow.”
For those who have never worked in food service, the changes restaurant workers are asking for may not seem like much. But those who have been in the industry for a long time know how resistant many bosses are to change. Tara, a cook in the Washington, DC area who asked that her last name be withheld to protect her identity while she looks for work, said the pandemic has made her realize what her non-negotiables are. “I refuse to take [a job] that’s the minimum serving wage. I need a place that’s at least minimum wage plus tips,” she said. “We are so sick and tired of [restaurant owners] assuming we want a handout. We want to work, but we also want to be treated like human beings. We haven’t been for way too long.”
Workers having more leverage is good! The onus is on employers to make the jobs worth taking.