Orlando area restaurateurs raise wages, increase benefits as they struggle to find workers post-pandemic

click to enlarge Orlando area businesses are offering increased wages and benefits as they struggle to find workers. - Adobe
Orlando area businesses are offering increased wages and benefits as they struggle to find workers.

Orlando businesses are struggling to find workers and have raised wages as a result.

In a new report from the Orlando Sentinel, several local business owners shared their trouble finding workers and the blindingly obvious solution they were forced to take to remedy it.

Maxine's on Shine owners Kirt and Maxine Earhart increased base wages to $10 an hour and started a tip-sharing program that would guarantee $15 an hour to all of their employees. In addition, they offered employees a paid day to get vaccinated and a week of paid vacation. Still, they say they are 10 people short of fully staffed at their restaurant.

Maxine Earhart said the shortage came from people who "left the industry" during the pandemic.

State leaders have pinned the problem on an expanded unemployment benefit offering an extra $300 per week to Floridians who are out of work. The state announced recently that it would end the benefit early to push people back to work. However, the Earharts told the paper they do not believe that's the main reason for a lack of staff.

In an interview with the Sentinel, AFL-CIO lobbyist Rich Templin said the problem lies in the service industry's tendency to underpay its workers.

"We are seeing a major reset of the labor market in this country because of what we just went through and what we're going through right now. What businesses are saying is, 'we want you to come back under the old rules and be paid poverty-level wages.'" Templin said. "And people are saying, 'no.'"

That opinion was not held universally. John Rivers, founder of the Winter Park-based 4 River Smokehouse chain, does blame the lack of workers on the expanded unemployment benefits.

"People are choosing to stay home and continue to collect this stimulus check, and it is absolutely compromising, if not crippling, the industry at the moment," he said.

Florida reported 487,000 Floridians were still out of work in April, out of a labor force of more than 1o million people. About half of the 1.3 million jobs lost to the pandemic have not been recovered, according to the Sentinel's report.

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