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Restaurants starving for workers

By Chadwick Dolgos


Despite restrictions easing as COVID-19 vaccines become more accessible to everyone in the state, local business owners are still struggling to keep their doors open. Now businesses are encountering difficulties with employment, not patronage.

While the unemployment rate is relatively high, business owners in the area say they are often unable to find staff to fill job openings. Many are offering additional incentives to new hires and still say they are having trouble competing with the current unemployment compensation being offered by federal and state governments.

According to Pennsylvania’s official website, the unemployment rate in Allegheny County was 7% as of March 2021, slightly lower than the state’s rate at 7.3%, but a percentage point higher than the national average.

Amy Berecky, an administrative specialist at Express Employment Professionals, a staffing agency franchise in Robinson, said the maximum amount an unemployment recipient can receive in Pennsylvania is $573 per week. Coupled with the $300 federal bonus, people on unemployment can stand to make up to $21.83 per hour for a 40-hour week staying at home and out of the workforce.

“The government’s killing us,” said Rockefeller’s Grille owner Dana DePaolo. “It’s easier to stay at home, get a paycheck, and not work.”

DePaolo has been advertising for two months trying to hire employees for all positions at his Kennedy Township restaurant.

As of April 2021, however, Rockefeller’s had zero active applicants.

“This is by far the hardest it's been to hire new employees since opening [in 1998],” said DePaolo.

While business is better than ever for Bob’s Diner owner Dané Marshall, the pandemic left her with less than half of the staff needed to operate the group’s four locations, leaving two locations in Castle Shannon and South Hills temporarily closed until the staffing issue is resolved.

“I had a lot of people that did not want to work,” she said. “I could understand that, because there were young mothers who were concerned with getting sick, or having to school their children at home.”

“Even though the revenue is good at the other two places I have open, I’m still under the gun because I’m paying expenses on buildings that I can’t get any revenue out of because I can’t get them open,” said Marshall.

Marshall was forced to pull employees from all of their locations to staff the Kennedy Township and Carnegie diners during the early months of the pandemic.

Other reasons people decided not to continue working included having at-risk family members at home, personal health issues that put them at higher risk, or a general fear of COVID-19, she said.

“I do believe there is always high turnover in the hospitality world, but these jobs were easier to fill pre-pandemic,” said Berecky, who explained staffing in all industries is currently difficult, though some industries are easier than others.

“Light industrial is usually an immediate start,” she said. “There is always a constant need for warehouse workers.”

Due to the staffing issues, businesses are offering additional incentives in an effort to bring people back to work. Both Bob’s Diner and Rockefeller’s Grille are offering higher wages for certain positions along with additional incentives.

“I’ve talked to every employee I have and offer them bonuses if they can get a friend to come and work for us,” said Marshall.

DePaolo said he is offering assistance with benefits for some positions at Rockefeller’s Grille.

“I know here at Express Employment Professionals, we have a plethora of incentives,” said Berecky.

Among the incentives offered to employees hired through the employment center, are a referral program offering $25 for every referral, monthly prize drawings, and a jackpot drawing lasting 25 weeks awarding one lucky employee with an additional $1,000.

“We are here to help,” said Berecky. “I offer my services to assist anyone who may need to create or update their resume, and we have assisted in providing the right work attire for people who just need a helping hand starting out or starting over.”

Additional unemployment benefits from the federal CARES Act will not expire until Sept. 4, leaving many businesses continuing to seek solutions to their staffing issues.

“I’m hoping that when the high school and college kids are on break, it will get us through the summer,” said Marshall.

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