Worker shortage frustrates River Region businesses

Updated: Apr. 22, 2021 at 5:55 PM CDT
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - The search for workers and the challenge to retain them seems to be a never-ending dilemma for businesses in the River Region.

The lunch hour at Joe Mama’s in Millbrook has burgers sizzling and fries cooking. It’s another busy, hectic day in the kitchen, but it doesn’t have to be this slammed if John Wooten could just get some help. He is three employees short. In fact, one person simply didn’t show up Thursday.

“I don’t know how much the stimulus money affected that,” said Wooten.

It’s a similar story across the region.

WSFA 12 News did a story on Anita Mays almost two months ago when she was 10 people short at the Hampton Inn & Suites.

“We might have to turn business away,” she said in February

Now she says, “We’re hurting still. Not as bad but it’s still hurting.”

What’s behind this strange phenomenon of so many not accepting job offers and staying put? The Alabama Department of Labor has an idea.

“We believe that it could be a combination of several different things,” said Alabama Department of Labor communications director Tara Hutchison. “You know that there are still some child care shutdowns, some schools that are still doing virtual learning that could be keeping parents out of the workforce,”

And yet the jobs are there. The unemployment rate right now in Alabama is 3.8%, down from more than 11% one year ago.

“Now we’re not back where we were pre-pandemic but we’re getting there,” said Hutchison.

There is a general sense the worker shortage will eventually work itself out. For now, it’s people like Mays and Wooten shouldering the burden, working longer hours and hanging on the best they can.

Dreamland Bar-B-Que is desperately looking for 40 employees, and another east Montgomery diner could use 17 as well.

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