“We are currently about five housekeepers short for what we anticipate to be probably the busiest summer we’ve ever had,” Klemme said.
To try to attract workers, the job’s starting wage is now $15 an hour, an increase of $3.50 per hour. Klemme said in the worst-case scenario, other Fitger’s management and staff would have to step in to help clean rooms, or they would have to change the check-in and check-out times to allow for more time in between guests. However, as of right now, he doesn’t anticipate they will have to resort to that.
“We would like to get to every position in the hotel and mall with the same ownership up to a minimum wage of $15 in the next year — that’s the goal — but housekeeping being the biggest need, that one came first.”
Manager John Klemme stands in the lobby of Fitger’s Inn in Duluth on Monday, June 7, 2021. (Steve Kuchera / [email protected])
Klemme isn’t alone. Nearly everyone in the hospitality sector in the area is hiring for the busy season ahead. Check out any employment website and you’ll find countless positions “urgently hiring.” Elena Foshay, Duluth’s director of workforce development, said she gets calls every day from restaurants and hotels looking for help with recruiting.
Lee’s Pizza in Duluth had to change its hours and delivery radius because it only has one cook and one delivery driver. And Shorty’s Pizza & Smoked Meat in Superior announced last week it closed the restaurant for good, citing lack of employees.
Foshay said the manufacturing industry is short-staffed in many entry-level jobs, and health care workers such as certified nursing assistants are in high demand.
One of the major reasons the workforce is not filling the demand of hospitality jobs this summer is the additional $300 per week of unemployment benefits that were extended by the American Rescue Plan. Many minimum wage jobs cannot offer the same amount of income that people on unemployment currently receive. The federal supplemental benefits will end on Sept. 6.
“Everyone likes to blame the extra $300 in unemployment, but that’s not entirely it,” Foshay said. “It certainly is making it easier for folks who are deciding not to look for work, but that’s not the only reason that’s holding people back.”
The hospitality industry was the hardest-hit sector during the pandemic, so many restaurants and hotels are having to start from scratch to rebuild the workforce they were forced to lay off last year.
Fitger’s Inn housekeeper Vickie Busker cleans the Isle Royale Suite on Monday, June 7, 2021. (Steve Kuchera / [email protected])
In Cook County, many local businesses rely on international student workers to come for the summer. Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jim Boyd said many countries that usually have students come on visas still have travel restrictions in place, and embassies and consulates haven’t had the capacity to process visas.
He said restaurants in the county are hit the hardest by the worker shortage, and several