From local coffee shops to Cuban restaurants to University of Michigan residence halls, Ann Arbor businesses say they are facing employee shortages, when the number of customers are increasing as COVID-19 restrictions ease up and vaccination rates increase.
This trend also exists nationwide, as labor shortages continue to challenge business owners and strain the productivity of their establishments. On campus, residence and dining halls are also facing similar difficulties in searching for student employees.
Economics professor Linda Tesar said that some people are still concerned about being exposed to COVID-19, especially in establishments where possibly unvaccinated customers are constantly coming in and out.
Some people may have also begun to aim for higher pay and are willing to wait for a more ideal job to come along, Tesar said.
“Some workers could be covering their expenses with the COVID stimulus support and therefore have time to look for the job they really want, rather than take the next job that is available,” Tesar said. “And it could be that people’s views about how much they need to be paid to do certain kinds of work have shifted with the pandemic.”
LSA junior Anthony Marx, a residential advisor in North Quad Residence Hall, said dining hall hours and residence hall activities have been limited due to the small number of available staff members. Some floors that are supposed to have two residential advisors are left with one, and dining halls are only open for a few blocks of time during the weekend, Marx said.
Marx added that he hopes more people will apply to become staff members and allow dining and residency to return to a more normal schedule.
“I would say apply for those jobs at MDining or Housing,” Marx said. “They are really a great opportunity to get some work experience under your belt but also support the University and (help us) get back to those hours that (students) were used to.”
Michigan Housing declined to comment on the worker shortage after multiple requests from The Michigan Daily.
During the first week of classes, as students faced long lines for busses, University spokesperson Kim Broekhuizen told the Daily it was due to a University labor shortage.
In Ann Arbor, businesses with signs proclaiming that they’re hiring are a common sight, and customers of popular establishments continue to experience longer wait times than usual.
Sweetwaters Coffee & Tea on East Liberty Street, for example, once faced an employee surplus during the height of the pandemic. In contrast, General manager Trina Smith told The Daily the cafe is now having trouble handling the increased traffic.
“It’s very interesting to see how COVID came, and during that time how slow we were and how bad sales were,” Smith said. “And now, a year later, we are reaching record sales. And we don’t have enough staff.”
Smith said she appreciates the empathy from Sweetwaters customers during busy hours.
“There’s usually only one or two people working, and it’s crazy,” Smith said. “Usually the customers are very understanding and I’m very grateful for that. So just having more patience and understanding during this time means a lot to us.”
In hopes of hiring more employees, Smith said the cafe is planning to raise pay for new and current staff members as well as promote a positive work environment for employees.
“It’s a great place to work,” Smith said. “You get free beverages during your shift. We definitely encourage people to be outgoing and creative and have good relationships with our team employees and the managers. We’re trying to do competitive pay right now as well.”
Eve Aronoff, manager of Frita Batidos, said the Cuban-inspired downtown Ann Arbor restaurant is facing similar issues of not having enough staff to account for the number of customers coming in. She said the restaurant workers are doing their best to make customers happy, but it is difficult without the necessary help.
“It is important to us to provide the level of service we are committed to, but we are having the same issues as everyone else in the restaurant community with being chronically shorthanded, which makes providing exceptional service much more challenging,” Aronoff said. “That is a hard thing to convey to guests without sounding like you are trying to come up with an excuse.”
Tesar said the best things businesses can do right now as they search for employees are to follow public health recommendations and raise wages if possible.
“Businesses can reassure workers that the workplace is safe by following public health recommendations (coworkers are vaccinated, people are wearing masks), increase flexibility for illness or for childcare,” Tesar said. “And firms could raise wages to see if that helps workers overcome some of their reservations about taking a job.”
Daily Staff Reporter Emily Blumberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.