Restaurant workers say industry needs to take stock, as owners struggle to find help
Restaurant owners are struggling to find – and keep – staff more than a year after the COVID-19 pandemic. They say many workers have left the industry for better pay and more stability, making it difficult to recruit enough people to keep operations running smoothly.
But restaurant workers, current and former, say COVID is not entirely to blame. They say the industry has always had its share of problems.
Danii G., 23, was working full time at McDonald’s when the pandemic hit. In a week, his hours went from 35 to five or six hours.
This was not viable for Danii, who requested that we only use her first name to protect her job.
To fill the void, Danii found work at Under the Ground BloNo, a vegan and vegetarian meal preparation service.
Danii said it was a bit of a culture shock – in the best possible way. She was paid $ 1.50 more than minimum wage. For the first time, she felt her employer cared about her well-being.
Danii remembers having to call unemployed after suffering an allergic reaction.
“I didn’t need to write a note from the doctor for my boss, I just called them up and I was like, ‘Hey, I have this allergy.’ And they’re like, ‘OK, cool. Just take a day off. Not only do they give me a day off, but the first time in my life I got paid sick leave, ”she said.
At her fast food job, Danii said calling in sick could have gotten her into trouble, in addition to losing much-needed money.
She quit fast food for a while during the pandemic, but recently joined McDonald’s. Danii said they tried to rehire her for minimum wage. She said no. A few days later, she said they had increased the salary out of desperation.
Danii now earns $ 14.50 as a team leader and has a second part-time job. She said McDonald’s was still struggling to recruit crew members.
“We just hired 10-15 people about a month ago and none of them work for McDonald’s yet because they found other jobs that are willing to pay them well above minimum wage. , not in the fast food industry, ”she said. I have worked in fast food for a while now. It is demeaning. It is horrible work. They yell at me, I get insulted, I get thrown food every day. Besides, we’re in the middle of a pandemic and I’m risking my personal health to work for you – and you’re not paying a living wage.
Danii said the mental and physical toll is exhausting, especially when they are constantly short of staff.
“We are busier than ever since the start of the pandemic. People who have been there for a while quit because they are exhausted, ”she said. I asked my colleagues to sit on a chair crying, (broken down) and leaving the store. I don’t blame them. It’s frustrating.”
Other restaurant workers say these issues are not unique to fast food restaurants.
Creighton Budris, 25, took his first restaurant job last summer as a dishwasher at a local downtown restaurant. It only lasted three months.
“It just wasn’t worth the money for the hard work. Once the pandemic was really involved and it was clear how endangered they were, I didn’t feel it was worth risking my safety or spending my time for such a small reward ” , said Budris. harder job than that – just hunched over a sink for eight hours.
Budris said the waiters will come to the back and remove their masks immediately. He said none of the cooks or managers wore masks either.
Budris said COVID safety precautions aren’t much better at the vape shop he works for. But other aspects of the job are easier to manage – and the pay is comparable. Budris adds that he’s not afraid of hard work. He has done landscaping gigs in the past and would consider taking another restaurant gig under different circumstances.
Some restaurateurs say people don’t want to take their jobs because pandemic relief and unemployment benefits are equal to restaurant wages.
Those who worked for these wages disagree.
“The idea that people are basically just about unemployment, like, that’s really silly,” Budris said. “The unemployment system is really, really, really very difficult in this state. It takes forever to get it, and they take you out of it anytime you want. And then as you go through the whole process, again, nobody wants to do it. Besides, we naturally don’t want to sit like this. “
Restaurant work can be lucrative, especially for knowledgeable employees, such as waiters or bartenders.
Michael Swanson, 24, quit a job at Walmart and started serving at a company restaurant in March.
“Since I started, business has been booming,” Swanson said. “There are times when I go to work and (someone) already asks me, ‘Hey, do you want to grab a table?’ and I haven’t even arrived yet. “
Swanson worked in restaurants from time to time. He said the move to retail gave him another perspective on low-wage jobs.
“Having to go to work, cross town in a 15-minute one-way trip, work for $ 11 an hour, and not even be full-time and barely able to meet your expenses and have creditors calling you and you.” breathe down your back – that’s really It costs you as much mentally as it does physically, “Swanson said.” Now in comparison, I’ve been around three weeks as a waiter at this restaurant and have already been able to earn enough money. money to pay my bills. “
But Swanson said that’s not the case everywhere. He said one of the most difficult aspects of working in a restaurant is the inconsistency of hours and tips.
On employers’ wages alone, Swanson said, the work is unsustainable.
The minimum wage for tip restaurant workers is 60% of what other hourly workers earn. The minimum tip wage in Illinois is currently $ 6.60. It gradually increases with the hourly wage.
Swanson said if he was successful, restaurant workers would be paid the minimum hourly and still be able to tip.
“Honestly, for the job the waiters have to do – alongside the rest of the restaurant staff – I don’t think they get paid enough to deal with half of the things they have to handle,” Swanson said. someone who has had a year and a half hiatus from the industry. “
In addition to low wages, Swanson said the workplace culture can be a nightmare, according to the restaurant.
“If you are lucky you will have genuinely caring staff who are in the industry to do the job, make people happy and feed the community,” he said. “But then, there are also people… who are absolute party-goers.
Swanson said he had limited sympathy for restaurateurs who say they can’t find workers. He said if restaurants can’t afford to pay workers a living wage, they shouldn’t be in business.
“If people want to play in this level of free market capitalism ideas, then you can’t be crazy if one of your workers is poached by Target because Target pays better,” he said. “You have found the question of why they were poached. And now, as a business owner, you have to make this answer.”
Restaurant workers say these problems will not go away with the pandemic. They say the restaurant industry has reached a point of calculation.
A higher salary is a start, they say. But to really make the industry viable for employees, they’re looking for perks like health insurance, pensions, and parental leave.
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