Many local business owners say that while their businesses may be recovering from forced closures, mask mandates and other pandemic-related challenges, there is one key element to their organizations that they are lacking – employees.
“Like everyone else in the industry, we are having trouble finding staff,” Ron St. Pierre, operating partner at Truck Farm Tavern in St. Rose, said. “We need more cooks, dishwashers, servers and bussers. We get a lot of applications when we post job openings, but the majority of those applicants don’t even show up for the interview … they just want to check the box to continue receiving unemployment. Unfortunately, we will not see the employment numbers stabilize until people are no longer getting paid to stay home.”
Currently available until Sept. 6 are $300-a-week federal unemployment payments, which are a reduced version of a $600 weekly benefit authorized last March under the CARES Act to help the millions of workers thrown out of work amidst the coronavirus pandemic. These payments are additional to state benefits.
Several state governors have recently opted out of the additional federal benefits, citing that they are hoping to entice people back to work.
All benefits remain available to Louisiana residents.
Corey Faucheux, the St. Charles Parish director of economic development and tourism, said that his office has been receiving a lot of feedback from local business owners about problems finding people to work.
“That is one of the most widely discussed issues impacting businesses of all sizes,” Faucheux said. “However, it is especially challenging for our smaller, locally-owned businesses and restaurateurs.”
Faucheux said the March 2021 parish unemployment rate was 6.6%, in contrast with 3.9% in March 2019.
“The estimated labor participation rate is down nearly 5% compared to 2019,” he said, adding pre-COVID the parish was experiencing historically low unemployment numbers. “Business activity has mostly recovered except for the hospitality industry – restaurants, hotels and tourist attractions – and the labor market.”
Kassie Griffith, who co-owns Southern HVAC, said she has been looking for employees for nearly a year.
“Currently it is very hard to even get somebody … to even keep employees,” she said. “Now at this point you’re lucky if you can come in for an interview. We have lots of applicants but no interviewees … they want top dollar pay.”
Griffith said in the summer months her company needs more techs, and lately some new employees will last only a day.
“And then they’re gone,” she said. “A lot of people are in a better situation than what we are paying … it’s making it harder for us to get employees.”
Monica Mustacchia, co-owner of Le PouLe Fou in Boutte, said finding new employees has been nearly impossible.
“We’ve had a few employees from the get-go who have stuck with us, and we have some family who work with us,” she said. “Without them we probably wouldn’t be open. We’ll try to get a cashier or a cook or a prep or dishwasher and either they only want a few hours or they don’t work out – or the biggest one – we don’t have any applicants.”
Mustacchia said the problem of the lack of employees has been compounded with booming business.
“Business has been better than ever and that’s the problem,” she said. “Before we had enough employees because business was just ok. It’s a blessing and a curse. We’re working ourselves to death as a family … every place on highway 90 has a hiring sign and we need employees.”