Business owners are hiring but ‘fighting for same pool’

Coronavirus

Unemployment rate in Oregon now 4.9%

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Daniel Shoemaker has had a tough summer trying to hire people to work at the Teardrop Lounge in the Pearl District. For months people weren’t applying to the job openings.

But just in the last few weeks, Shoemaker made his last hires and is now fully staffed.

It’s also been 2 weeks since the extra unemployment benefits ended. Other owners in the hospitality industry said they also had trouble hiring because many people left the industry for good during the pandemic.

“Whether or not that’s people coming off unemployment and benefits ending, I don’t know,” Shoemaker told KOIN 6 News. “Experientially all I can say it’s a lot easier to locate people.”

Normally he trains his new bartenders for 6 months to a year before they hit the ground running. This time, he hired and trained about 8 people all at once.

“The training program here is very intense as it is and usually I take one person and train them over the course of a year,” he said. “Now we’re having to do that with multiple people at once.”

Sean O’Connor of the boutique hotel and restaurant KEX Portland said they’re going to extreme lengths — hiring people on the spot over the phone.

“At the end of the day certainly when we can’t even hire up to be open 7 days a week, I’ll admit I do find it aggravating,” O’Connor said.

He stressed the national narrative in news is that hospitality workers are undervalued and underpaid.

“Oregon and Multnomah County is a much different story than, say, like, Texas or Alabama,” he told KOIN 6 News.

In some states workers get around $2 an hour plus tips. In Multnomah County the minimum wage is $14 an hour plus tips.

He said the pandemic took a toll on their overall staff.

“We had a staff of 50 employees before the pandemic and at first we furloughed staff but as the pandemic carried on we ended up laying off all but two employees,” O’Connor said. “We now only have a staff of 30 and like I said we’re still understaffed by about 7 for what we need right now.”

Shoemaker said he and other owners thought it would be easy to find workers.

“Everyone I know is hiring. Everyone is hiring right now, so we’re all fighting for the same pool,” he said. “But obviously the narrative that all of us missed is that a lot of people were leaving the industry entirely.”

Oregon’s unemployment rate dropped to 4.9% in August — the lowest rate since March 2020 when it was 3.6%, according to a new report by the Oregon Employment Department.

Shoemaker has 15 employees and said his whole staff is vaccinated. With the delta variant spreading, The Teardrop Cocktail Lounge started requiring proof of vaccination for customers to come inside.

He said about 50 other restaurants and bars are also requiring vaccination proof.

“It’s the only safe way to navigate this through this time,” he said.

The majority of his patrons are already vaccinated so business has been fine. “We were on the precipice of extinction every day. We still are.”

These are just a few new hurdles local businesses are trying to overcome at this point in the pandemic.

“Fundamentally the industry is based on people working when everyone else is enjoying themselves,” Shoemaker said. “That’s an inherent part of the problem.”

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