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NC Business Leaders Push For Legislative Action As Labor Shortage Persists

MIKI Yoshihito

North Carolina business leaders say legislative action is needed to entice workers into rejoining the workforce as many businesses struggle to find workers going into the summer season.

The hospitality and manufacturing sectors have had an especially hard time finding workers, according to Gary Salamido, president of the North Carolina Chamber of Commerce.

He said he gets calls every day from those sectors about the worker shortage, and cited a finding from North Carolina's Restaurant and Lodging Association that estimated restaurants are down about 70,000 workers — or about 17% of the industry's workforce — compared with before the pandemic.

"It's a crisis right now," Salamido said. "It's the issue I deal with most every day."

He says the chamber has been pushing Gov. Roy Cooper and lawmakers to stop sending out the extra $300 a week in unemployment benefits from the federal government as one way to prod people back to work, though he's not optimistic that will happen.

"We're disappointed that every indication is that the benefits will continue through September," Salamido said, "so we're looking now at what other opportunities are there to help folks get back to work quicker, help businesses recover faster."

He says the chamber supports a GOP-backed bill that would provide $1,500 signing bonuses to anyone on unemployment who gets a job within 30 days of the bill becoming law. The bonus would drop to $800 if a person begins employment on or after 30 days but before 60 days. The measure would need approval from the federal government.

Salamido says the chamber also supports Cooper's recent executive order reinstating work search requirements for all North Carolinians on unemployment.

Shanté Williams, chairman of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Black Chamber of Commerce, said businesses also needed to look at raising wages to a minimum of $15 an hour — if not higher — to attract workers.

"That was probably the right number years ago," Williams said, "I'd love to see pay catch up to what it really costs to live in Charlotte."

Williams also said her organization was pushing the city of Charlotte to create more paid workforce development programs.

While the labor shortage has been particularly acute in restaurants, hospitality, and manufacturing, it's also extending to many other employers in sectors across Charlotte's economy.

Mecklenburg County says it's also experiencing staffing shortages at its summer camps, in part because many teachers who usually staff the camps are being lured back to into the classroom this year to teach summer school.

"It's affecting the kids we're serving, as well as the teachers and teachers aids," said Terri Stowers, director of Mecklenburg County's Community and Recreation Services.

Stowers said the county has had to cut the number of children they can serve this summer. There are about 37 opening in the county's recreation centers.

The Charlotte Knights are also feeling the pinch. Dan Rajkowski, chief operating officer for the Charlotte Knights, said the team has been hard-pressed to find staff for its concession stands and on the field.

"We've raised wages," he said. "Two years ago, we were paying $8, $8.50 an hour. We're now up into $11, $12 an hour or more. Depending on the position, we're getting up to $15."

Rajkowski said they have a core group of staff who have returned, but they would need at least 75 more workers if Truist Field filled up for a sold-out game of just over 10,000 fans. He said high school and college students start filling positions as they get out of school.

Shanté Williams is a member of WFAE's Community Advisory Board.

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Nick de la Canal is a reporter for WFAE covering breaking news, arts and culture, and general assignment stories. His work frequently appears on air and online. Periodically, he tweets: @nickdelacanal