FALL RIVER – Some local employers are bending over backwards to attract new workers by offering increased hourly wages and incentives that include employee referral bonuses.
Part of the reason, they said, continues to be the federal government’s weekly $ 300 supplemental unemployment benefit program that expires on Labor Day and that a number of states have already discontinued or are planning to terminate sooner.
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“It’s an interesting dilemma,” said James Karam, president and CEO of First Bristol Corporation, a Fall River-based real estate development company whose holdings include nine hotels in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
Karam says it’s been two months since he started offering a $ 300 bonus to any staff member at any of his hotels who sponsors a new employee who in turn stays in their position for at least 90 days.
This new worker is also entitled to a premium of $ 300 after the 90 day period.
Another incentive program offered by the company offers existing hotel staff, excluding management staff, a monthly bonus of $ 100 for each month the worker maintains a perfect attendance record.
Karam says his hotel business has rebounded so much – as the economy slowly returned to normal after the darkest days of the coronavirus pandemic – that it is struggling to keep a full workforce.
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âThe hotel industry is going through difficult times. The market is very, very strong, âhe said, noting that air travel also faces challenges to keep pace with demand.
Karam says room reservations at his three Newport hotels in particular, in part because of an increase in weddings, “are just on fire.”
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And while the additional $ 300 a week from the federal government is “a deterrent for people to come to work,” he says he realizes that this may also be justified in certain circumstances.
“It is a difficult decision, because there are people who need it,” he said.
But when someone calls in sick, Karam says the burden falls on other members of his housekeeping team. Each of these women, he said, cleans an average of 14 rooms per day.
âRight now we have just enough help to cover it,â he said. “But we’re only one or two people away from having a problem.”
Karam says he pays his housekeepers $ 15 an hour and provides a comprehensive health insurance plan. He said he currently employs around 300 housekeepers at the six hotels.
Karam says there has also been an issue with some so-called job seekers who go through a pre-interview over the phone but do not show up later in person for the job interview.
âWe could have five dates and only one will show up,â he said.
Karam said he suspected people who call but miss interview appointments are likely to be more interested in continuing to receive their enhanced UI payments until the September 6 deadline.
Temp agency says some clients offer higher wages
Carlos Asian, manager of the Fall River Monroe staffing services office on North Main Street, says he sees the most of his clients in the southeast region of the state increasing their entry hourly wages.
âA lot of them are offering an amount that matches or even exceeds what people are collecting with the extra $ 300,â he said.
Asian cites the example of a Plympton commercial lighting company struggling to attract a dozen ready-to-work assemblers for $ 16 an hour.
He says the company eventually raised the wage to $ 19 an hour and immediately saw results.
âIn two or three days it was all filled up,â Asian said. âWhen they (job seekers) saw $ 19 an hour, they said, ‘Now it makes sense that I go to work. “
All of the workers who have been hired live in the New Bedford and Fall River area and are ready to come to Plympton, he said.
National statistics show record number of job vacancies
Media Hill reported Wednesday that job vacancies across the country hit a record 9.2 million in May, according to the US Department of Labor.
“The number of jobs opened on the last working day of May was little changed from the peak reached in April,” The Hill reported.
âIt’s a market of job seekers as demand for workers remains at record levels,â said The Hill, quoting Daniel Zhao, senior economist at Glassdoor.
Stop & Shop offering $ 1000 bonus and higher wages in Freetown
Starting wages at the Stop & Shop warehouse and distribution center in Freetown have also increased in order to attract more long-term workers.
A company spokesperson said the supermarket company “is actively hiring at our Freetown distribution center” with a base salary of $ 17.50 per hour.
This is a 13% increase from the previous starting wage of nearly $ 15.50 an hour, the spokesperson said, who added that the increase took effect in May.
Stop & Shop also offers an incentive bonus of $ 1,000 to any employee who recommends someone hired to work at the Freetown facility, provided the person remains with the company for at least six consecutive months.
In addition to the higher hourly wage, Stop & Shop says its job posting includes “paid medical and retirement benefits for eligible distribution center associates.”
The spokesperson also confirmed that Stop & Shop hired temporary workers this summer, but said it was “something that we typically do every year to make sure our distribution center associates year round can take time off â.
Most of the temporary workers do not live in the area, according to the spokesperson.
The taxi company cannot find drivers
Fred Humes and Faith Latessa, co-owners of Town Taxi in Fall River, told the Herald News last January that so many drivers were dropping out for safety reasons About COVID-19 that eight of their 20 Chevy Impala taxis have been pulled off the road.
Things have not improved since then, said Humes, who says he only has enough drivers to put a maximum of 10 taxis on the street at any given time.
âI just pulled four taxis off the road,â Humes said in a recent interview in his Stevens Street office.
Before the pandemic, Humes said, he had a fleet of 26 vehicles available to hit the road.
He attributes his situation to the lingering fear of some former drivers of contracting the coronavirus from customers who have not been vaccinated, as well as the $ 300 unemployment supplement from the federal government.
âSome of them say, ‘My wife doesn’t want me to drive,’ Humes said.
âAnd if you can stay home and earn an extra $ 300, why would you want to go to work? It’s that simple, âhe added.
Humes says he understands the frustration of customers who sometimes have to wait 30 to 45 minutes to reach the cab company’s telephone dispatcher.
âThe phone rings all the time, but we don’t have enough drivers,â he said.
Humes says customers are realizing what’s going on and taking longer trips and more stops than they normally would before the pandemic. This means that other customers are waiting longer for groceries.
âBefore, they used to go from point A to point B. Now they go to points C, D and E,â he said.
Latessa says that two months ago, when she placed a driver assistance ad on Craigslist, the response was disappointing.
âNot a bite,â she said.
Latessa said every driver wants to make money, but she says some of them are burnt out after driving so many hours.
“They are tired. They have worked their [expletive] and some of them are starting not to show up, âshe said.
Humes said the job is there for anyone who wants to work their own hours as an independent contractor, full-time or part-time, and earn 50% of every taxi fare.
Unlike other companies which are responsible for levying taxes on employee wages, he says he is unable to offer any incentive for the bonus.
Humes says he won’t be surprised if people apply for drivers after the $ 300 unemployment improvement program expires in less than two months.
“What will happen when the stimulus checks run out?” he said. âThey are going to knock on the door, but I will choose. “
Charles Winokoor can be contacted at [email protected]. Support local journalism and subscribe to The Herald News today.