HELP WANTED: Kitchen staff, housekeepers, front desk assistants, bartenders, waiters, kitchen workers, cooks. And the list continues.
With 68,000 people receiving unemployment compensation and only 10% working, local hotels and motels are still struggling to find help as an avalanche of tourists is expected to hit South County this summer.
And it comes as the state softened the deal by allowing many who return to work to collect federal unemployment benefits and earn more money before losing some of their state benefits. The problem still exists for these companies and others.
“The situation affecting hotels is so exceptionally dire right now,” Sarah Bratko of the Rhode Island Hospitality Association told The Independent this week.
“South County is the perfect embodiment of this perfect storm,” she added.
Waves of tourists arrive
Summer tourists and vacationers plan to visit a southern county now free of COVID-19 restrictions soon. Because COVID restrictions have disappeared and pent-up trips erupt among those locked up for a year, a tourism boom is expected, according to the local chamber of commerce and tourism officials.
However, hotels across the country are reporting difficulties in hiring enough housekeepers, kitchen staff and other hourly workers, including those they laid off at the start of the pandemic, ahead of the summer season, which is expected to attract a significant number of visitors to the region.
Indeed, the visit can be memorable, but accommodation managers want to avoid online reviews of bad memories like this recent one for a Narragansett hotel.
“Great location for Narragansett, but the place is old and needs updating. There was no mention that the rooms would not be cleaned so I think there should be a reduction.
“All they did was empty the trash and swap towels which I had to grab the staff in the hallway to even do… I wouldn’t have been happy to pay double the rate for any room service and general condition dated and dirty. ”
In a world of buyers where online reviews can dramatically influence business during a busy tourist season, hotel and motel managers prefer reviews like this for a hotel in the same neighborhood:
“This hotel is absolutely phenomenal, we recently stayed 2 nights and my only complaint is that we couldn’t stay longer! We were decidedly hesitant at Covid, but they are taking every possible precaution. The staff are absolutely amazing… ”
What makes this problem difficult for managers of hotels like Brenda Ball of Fairfield Inn and Suites by Marriott in South Kingstown and Marc Grandmaison of The Break in Narragansett – along with many others – is that South County comes at a cost of high life for these kind of workers in the middle echelons of the American economic ladder.
Added to this problem are the limited number of immigrants who take up hospitality jobs, childcare costs, a lack of affordable housing and additional federal unemployment benefits, although the state is trying to compensate. this through policies encouraging people to work as well, Bratko said. of the hotel association.
The perfect storm
“It’s a perfect storm and South County bears the brunt of it, although it can be found statewide,” she said. ” There is nothing else. It’s very individual for the affected employees, ”she said.
For example, a person living in Providence may want to work in South County, but the lack of affordable housing prevents him or her from relocating, public transportation to the area for the hours required for work is difficult to organize, person no. can’t afford a car and some form of childcare is needed, she said.
“It’s so frustrating. It’s been a hell of a year, ”she added.
Ball, general manager of his hotel, agreed. “It’s definitely a fight. We have been running ads since February on Indeed, Craig’s List and held job fairs, ”she said.
Housekeeping, maintenance, breakfast attendant, night audit positions are available at the hotel, she said.
Grandmaison, general manager of The Break – a hotel within sight of the Atlantic Ocean – needs bartenders, waiters, cooks, preparers, front desk attendants and housekeepers.
Managers are working extra shifts, people need to be cross-trained to do different jobs, and he keeps looking for more people before the hotel restaurant opens in a week and reserved tourists start to arriving on vacation towards the end of the month.
In North Kingstown at TownePlace Suites by Marriott, general manager Patrick Brown said he gets many calls – and many absences for interviews for the five positions he has opened for reception, housekeeping and maintenance. maintenance.
He, like other managers, believes that calls for information are part of the requirement for unemployment benefits, but that people may not really want the jobs. Suresh Bhalala, general manager and co-owner of the Scarborough Beach Motel in Narragansett, found the same.
“People are calling me, but don’t come in,” he said. Victor Gee, attendant at the 18-room Wickford Motor Inn in North Kingstown, reported the same issue.
The attention, but the lack of follow-up producing the shortage, also leads some hotels to avoid opening completely because they do not have the required staff to provide the full service.
Bhalala said his 28-room motel has cut back on daily housekeeping services for those staying multiple nights. He doesn’t have the staff to keep up with the work, he said.
He and others in South County have company all over the county.
“There were weekends where I had to leave rooms vacant because we didn’t have enough people to clean them,” Sloan Dean, managing director of management company Remington Hotels, recently told the Wall Street Journal.
The company has around 500 open positions at its 78 properties, which carry major brands such as Marriott International Inc., Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc., Hyatt Hotels Corp. and InterContinental Hotels Group PLC, said Dean.
And the local managers who take over are in good company elsewhere in the United States.
To keep up with demand, David Mariotti, general manager of Remington, operated by One Ocean Resort & Spa in Atlantic Beach, Fla., Said he spends about half of his 50-hour workweek on household chores when ‘There were a lot of people, according to The Journal.
He drives the laundry truck, cleans rooms, stores linen closets and does other chores he did for training purposes before the pandemic.
Bratko, of the hotel association, said his professional group has created a website for members to post job vacancies that people can check out (rihospitalityjobs.org).
“In creating this new ‘Jobs’ website, our goal is to centralize the opportunities available to employers and job seekers as the state reopens and recovers,” said Dale J. Venturini, President and Chief Executive Officer. of the management of the association.
The fate of hotels, restaurants and other businesses dependent on tourism is at the center of the concerns of state officials.
At present, state officials said recently, only about 10% of the 68,000 unemployment benefit recipients report working.
Governor Dan McKee, in a recent interview with The Independent, said: “Unemployed people have to look for work because it exists.”
“We need to make sure that small businesses are properly staffed, otherwise they will not be able to take advantage of the robust economy that is coming,” he said.
Matthew Weldon, director of the State Department of Labor and Training, also noted in an interview with The Independent: “In South County in particular, the hospitality industry is at the heart of the economy.
“We have to do something and that’s why we are doing it now. These changes that we are trying to put in place as well as the return of the obligation to look for work during unemployment should help people to re-enter the labor market, ”he added.
The current law only allows people to earn less than their current weekly unemployment benefits. If they earn more, they are cut.
In addition, a person can only have 20% of this free income before losing money on their unemployment benefit.
A change in the law now provides a buffer so that, as Weldon noted, “you can make more money, you can keep more of what you earn, and stay connected to the federal $ 300 bonus and return to work. . “
The law now allows someone to earn up to 150% of their benefit amount and continue to receive partial unemployment benefit, but would not get the full payment. “As long as they get $ 1 from the state, they will also get whatever the federal government gives them,” he said.
In addition, unemployed people who earn money from part-time work benefit from a reduction in this overall benefit. The law now allows someone to keep 50% – down from 20% – of the amount without penalty, Weldon said.
Weldon also said the DLT has reinstated the requirement that unemployed people document that they are looking for a job. It was not applied during the pandemic last year.
Still, looking for a job is not the same as taking one, said hotel and motel managers, Patrick Brown of TownePlace Suites by Marriott, noting an irony.
“There are definitely a lot of hospitality jobs out there right now for anyone who needs them,” he said.