Texas Job Market Amid Return To Normalcy - 05/23/21 - Segment 3

Texas Job Market Amid Return To Normalcy - 05/23/21 - Segment 3

Video Transcript

ROBBIE OWENS: Some North Texas restaurants are offering incentives hoping to entice potential workers. Rachel O'Neill tells us about one restaurateur who was able to maintain 100% of their employees through the pandemic.

JOE GROVES: If you train people well enough that they can go off and leave you one day but you treat them well enough, they will stay with you.

- Ellen's co-owner Joe Groves says if restaurants want to attract and keep workers, the pay structure has to change. That's why he's implemented a new minimum wage.

JOE GROVES: We guarantee our servers up to $20 an hour. If they don't make $20 an hour, including their tips, we will make up the difference. We also are working on a program to make-- pay more equitable in the kitchen as well, because they don't participate in tips. And that's one of the most underpaid parts of the restaurant business.

- Groves, who is also offering employees health insurance, is one of many getting creative to bring in new hires.

AJ TYREE: But we have run into a little bit of a struggle being able to staff up to the levels that we need with, you know, with the pandemic going to the wayside and business picking back up.

- AJ Tyree, the manager of City Works in Fort Worth, is hoping his current workers will help him fill those open positions.

AJ TYREE: For our Fort Worth location, we're offering a $250 sign-on bonus for our positions. It's also a-- like, a head-- like, a recruiting bonus too. So it would actually go out-- if one of our internal staff members is able to recruit somebody, they receive $200 after 30 days of employment. And then the employee gets $250 again after 30 days. And then for our sister location in Frisco, we're actually offering that same bonus at $500.

- He's hopeful these efforts will encourage more people to seek employment in the hospitality industry.

AJ TYREE: We're wanting to get staffed up, get some people in here, treat some people right, and to be able to continue to grow and get back to normal.

ROBBIE OWENS: That was Rachel O'Neill reporting. I continued the conversation about the job shortage in the restaurant and hospitality industry with Britt Philyaw. She is the Executive Director of the Heard That Foundation. The group has been finding ways to help thousands of local workers in that industry during the pandemic.

BRITT PHILYAW: I think the restaurant industry has always been in kind of a precarious state-- you know, the nature of the industry, its fast pace. People move from restaurant to restaurant, it's tip-based, there aren't benefits-- paid sick leave, things like that that. You know, when a health crisis or a family emergency occurs, people are often left holding the bag.

So we just kind of wanted to help and fill that gap. We are a small organization. We're growing all the time.

ROBBIE OWENS: Is there any way to sum up what COVID has done to the hospitality industry?

BRITT PHILYAW: I mean, it's shaken it to the core. From restaurant owners, from chefs, dishwashers, back of house, front of house servers, bartenders, everyone who works in the industry, it's just shaken us. You know, there's no modified work. When restaurants shut down, that was it.

And I think it's just left everyone really struggling to rebuild and to figure out, how are we going to be better? How are we going to get back on our feet? You know, I think I saw something-- statistics that from February of 2020 to February 2021, there were 60,000 jobs lost in the industry in Dallas Fort Worth. So there's a lot going on.

ROBBIE OWENS: And we know that there has been some improvement as restaurants have been allowed to reopen, as they've been able to expand capacity. And now the narrative is, we can't find anyone that wants to work. Everyone's got a help wanted sign out.

BRITT PHILYAW: Right.

ROBBIE OWENS: And one of the reasons that you wanted to visit with us is that you're troubled by this narrative-- that the reason that these restaurant owners and hospitality industry owners are unable to fill those positions is because unemployment is still lucrative. Your response to that.

BRITT PHILYAW: You know, personally, I'm really disturbed by that. You know, speaking for our community, it's just-- I don't find that that's the truth. I personally don't know anyone-- there's no one that we work with at Heard That Foundation that's actually still on unemployment. The majority of people that I knew-- you know, granted, took some time off during those two weeks-- I think it was two weeks-- when things were shut down.

But people have continued to work. You know, people are-- restaurants are families. They stay-- a lot of people have taken on more responsibilities-- cleaning, enforcing COVID rules, moving furniture, things they never did before-- owners getting on the ground floor, serving food. You know, a lot of people have really gone above and beyond. A lot of people have taken on extra jobs.

I think it's kind of a tale of two cities. I do think that there are some people that-- you know, people with families, women, which make up more than half of the labor force, that had kids that really had to reevaluate things. You know, all of a sudden, the flexibility of hours and tipped pay wasn't a plus. They were looking for stability, a stable income, they were having to teach their kids at home maybe.

So there's a lot of things that, yes, some people left the workforce, found other jobs, or upskilled, but I know a lot of people that are still looking for work. So it's kind of interesting to me that my experience is very different from maybe the loudest narrative is how I would say it.

ROBBIE OWENS: This pandemic and the shutdown has forced a lot of soul-searching and reassessment across industries, with people asking themselves, what do I want to do with my next chapter? And when you factor in things about, you know, the instability of the wages and things like that-- the perhaps unsafe working conditions because you are dealing with the public every day, it's made people in the hospitality industry ask themselves some hard questions.

BRITT PHILYAW: You know, and I do have to say-- my experience working in Dallas, there are so many great restaurants. We still all get together. We are family-- so many great memories. I was fortunate to have really great experiences. You know, there are people that are committed to their restaurant and are going to stick, but I just think that there's a lot of people that just had bad experiences and are saying, I'm not going to go back to that-- I'm going to go back to school.

Or I know, for instance, there's a woman and her husband when she was laid off he was in the hospital-- un-COVID-related-- with some health issues. They subsequently lost their health insurance. And we helped them with grants. And so it's just been a process of her, you know-- a lot of restaurant jobs don't offer health insurance.

And her restaurant closed down. She could not go back. So she was kind of forced to go into another industry. So I think just-- you know, it's more nuanced. You know, everyone has a family. Everyone's dealing with their own health issues, or schedules, or families.

Some people have moved in with their parents or elderly relatives and they're prioritizing their health. So I just think that there's a lot of things at play. And again, I just want to reiterate that people that we've worked with-- again, I can't speak to everyone, but I do believe that this is the majority of people-- that were on unemployment searching for work, received the stimulus, were still not making ends meet.

People were still applying for help with health insurance, with car payments, with unexpected bills. Those things didn't stop with the pandemic, you know? And two weeks can-- I mean, it can put you behind really quickly when you're not getting income. So yeah--

ROBBIE OWENS: I was just going to ask-- in your experience, this additional $300 in federal unemployment benefits, that is not keeping hospitality workers at home-- or the vast majority-- in your experience.

BRITT PHILYAW: I don't believe so. I don't believe so.

ROBBIE OWENS: And what bothers you about that narrative? What bothers you about this conversation, as you said, that all these people are just lazy and don't want to go back to work. And that's why we need to cut off these unemployment benefits.

BRITT PHILYAW: Well, quite frankly, it's rude, you know? And I think people deserve respect whatever job that they have. And there are a lot of professionals in this industry, and it is hard work.

I know a lot of people that have had restaurant jobs and moved on to other professions. And I know people know what I'm saying is true. I just think that it has been politicized. And I think that if you can kind of see beyond the rhetoric of the times, which is extremely hard, and just really think about your own family, what you prioritize, and then try to put yourself in someone else's shoes, whatever profession they're in.

ROBBIE OWENS: A final thought next on "To the Point."