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Stimulitis — new syndrome keeping workers home

By PAULETTE LeBLANC - | Apr 21, 2021

pleblanc@breezenewspapers.com

Most business owners are accustomed to a certain number of employees calling in sick, or quitting, as well as applicants looking for work, but according to many local business owners, this year is nothing like years’ past in that respect.

Luretta Williams-Sims, owner of Capt’n Con’s Fish House, says she can’t find anybody who wants to work and refuses to exhaust faithful employees who do show up.

“I’ve had very few people even apply to do anything,” said Sims, who explained having an employee who worked for a short time and gave one week notice, never to return, and then filed for unemployment. Sims said she responded to the unemployment office explaining that this person did, in fact, have a job and was needed.

“I gave everybody the day off after Easter, just so they could breathe,” said Sims. “They’re killing themselves trying to keep the place open. I’m trying to run ads to get people to work, but I just don’t think I’m going to get anybody to train or anything if they can get unemployment after a few weeks. The solution is to stop unemployment. People need to get up and get out and get a job.”

Michael Flynn, owner of Saltwater Smokehouse, is having the same issue with his help, sometimes unable to keep his doors open.

“It is crippling us,” said Flynn. “The people who have come in for work ask if we can pay them in cash under the table, so they can still get their unemployment and we’re not going to do that. They need to end unemployment benefits, because they’re extremely high. As soon as that happens you’ll see everybody out there trying to apply for jobs, and on Pine Island, if we’re out of season, there aren’t going to be any jobs. We can’t get people to work, so please be nice to the people who do show up.”

Mike Miceli, owner of El Pollo Rico, said, “It has become extremely difficult to operate a business in recent times. A lot of people have figured out a way to make a living without employment — it’s very sad.”

Maria Albano, owner of Nick B’s, has felt the affect of COVID in the short time her business has been open.

“We have been affected through COVID from the lack of support from the PPP loans and the significant changes implemented around the COVID guidelines making everyday business different. We have noticed the impact on Pine Island and the surrounding locations making it very difficult to hire due to the high unemployment rates. We desperately need help and COVID isn’t helping,” said Albano.

John Lynch, owner of the Blue Dog, is another of many employers seeing a difference this year.

“We try to take care of our people and really do consider our staff family,” said Lynch. “We recognize the need to hire more staff to serve our customers well, but unfortunately, there have been a lot fewer applicants this year. Our staff is working a lot of hours, busting their butts and doing a great job.

“Right now, one of our biggest concerns is making sure we aren’t overworking the staff,” he continued. “We don’t want to run our people into the ground just to make a buck. We usually have applications on file so we can call people in during peak periods. But, right now, we don’t have those applicants to rely on to keep up with the demand. This is a nationwide issue with the service industry.”

He went on to add, “Finding staff is our number one priority. To ensure we can serve our customers to the best of our ability without burning out the staff, we have made the tough decision to close on Sundays. This will allow our team members a day to rest and be ready to serve our customers each Monday. This is a temporary decision and we will reassess as additional staff members are identified.”

Lisa Dence of Olde Fish House who usually has 24 employees this time of year, is down to 12. She said she has never seen anything like this in her 10 years on the island. She has made the decision to close for Mother’s Day and the day after, in an effort to let her employees take a break.

“My staff needs a break, they’re exhausted,” said Dence. “My girls are working open to close and you just can’t find anybody — you can’t even get people to come and apply.”

Dence says even her paid online ad has had no results, and the people who have applied do not show up to interview, leaving her to suspect people are reporting having applied to continue to receive unemployment.

“I have contacted unemployment and told them, we’re all trying to hire people and we can’t get anybody. So the businesses are being charged for these people being on unemployment, yet we can’t even hire people,” she said. “There’s nobody out there who wants a job. Right now, I’m the opening cook in my kitchen and the bookkeeper … and it’s not just me, it’s everybody on the island, and everybody off the island.

“The other night someone went home with a stomach ache and I told my girls, if someone else goes home, just close the doors. I’ve never said just close the doors but I don’t know what else to do.”