Get Caught Up: Where are the workers? -- how shortage has affected Michigan businesses, schools

‘My staff is absolutely exhausted, and I do thank them for their hard work’

Help wanted sign (Pixlr)

We have a series of reports to share this weekend about the worker shortage in Michigan.

From restaurants to schools, there is a shortage of people available to fill open positions. The cause of this trend is up for serious debate by economists across the nation.

Here’s our coverage of the situation from the past few weeks in Metro Detroit.

Get Caught Up” is ClickOnDetroit’s Saturday news review to help readers catch up on the biggest stories of the week.

Worker shortage having big impact on Michigan restaurants, customers

By Evrod Cassimy

A nationwide worker shortage is hitting Metro Detroit restaurants hard, with many struggling to keep operations going as normal -- and some even raising prices for customers to offset costs.

The hospitality industry in Michigan is one of several struggling with a nationwide worker shortage.

A new survey released by the Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association shows a significant slow-down of any rebound that the industry so desperately needs. Officials say businesses have seen a decline in profit, indoor dining and -- most importantly -- labor, threatening restaurants’ sustainability.

Downtown Detroit’s famous Hudson Cafe, on Woodward Avenue, has been no stranger to the worker shortage plaguing businesses across Metro Detroit and beyond. The popular breakfast and lunch spot is celebrating its tenth year in business this year, but now with fewer workers.

“My staff is absolutely exhausted, and I do thank them for their hard work,” said Hudson Cafe owner Tom Teknos.

According to Teknos, the restaurant needs about 35 or 36 staff members to operate smoothly. Right now, they have only 28 employees.

Teknos has thanked his existing staff in a number of ways, from offering bonuses for their hard work, to increasing their hourly wage. To help his staff while also looking for new hires, the restaurant owner pledged even bigger bonuses for those who help him find new employees.

“I offered them $500 a person to bring somebody in,” Teknos said. “If they stayed 30 days, I give them an additional $500, and $1,000 for the people that just started. They had to stay a minimum of 60 days.”

But, surprisingly, the generous offer did not work. Teknos said he received 37 or 38 applicants, but only two showed up for interviews. Both of those candidates were hired on the spot, but then never showed up for their first day of work, Teknos said.

Nearby in Dearborn, the owners of Rex’s Golden Grill are experiencing the same problem.

“You’re just not getting any applications,” said owner John Mourtos. “Whether you put it online, however you do it, you’re not getting new people to come in to apply. I’ve been looking for a line cook for a year and a half.”

The family restaurant is co-owned by Mourtos and his brother. They’re currently short about five employees, and have offered similar incentives to what Teknos has offered at Hudson Cafe.

One thing Mourtos says the restaurant won’t do is sacrifice the quality of service or food because of the staff shortage.

“The stress kicks in when at the peak hours; when you wanna make sure you can take care of the customers that you have who are in here placing carry-outs or ordering on DoorDash,” said Mourtos. “Everybody just picks up the slack.”

In some instances, the costs of bonuses and higher wages are passed on to the customer through higher food prices. Hudson Cafe has had to raise prices by 35%, but, often times, the restaurant just takes the financial hit.

“Customers have been completely understanding,” Teknos said. “Obviously, I can only pass the additional food costs onto the consumer for so long. After this, I kind of hit my breaking point, like, I cannot go up any higher.”

Both restaurants are doing well financially, adjusting to the current situation, and are thankful to continue to provide a service their customers know and love.

“I got into this business because I love taking care of customers,” Teknos said. “I don’t want to come in and have professional order takers take your order, drop off the food and they’re done. We like giving the whole dining experience, and hopefully that doesn’t get lost ... I think that’s the direction we’re going in, if we don’t start picking up new staff.”

If you are looking for a job and have experience in the restaurant industry, Hudson Cafe and Rex’s Golden Grill are hiring -- sometimes on the spot with competitive wages. Stop on by and fill out an application.

Side note: If you ever visit Hudson Cafe, be sure to order the Cinnabon pancakes -- they’re a fan favorite!

Senior living centers struggling with staff shortages

By Nick Monacelli

Like most industries across the U.S., assisted living centers are also facing -- and struggling with -- staff shortages.

Like most industries across the U.S., senior and assisted living facilities are facing -- and struggling with -- staff shortages.

As assisted care facilities operate with fewer staff than needed, some are being forced to turn away new tenants. At the Village of East Harbor in Chesterfield, staff member Betsy Mianecki says it takes a lot of people to run a senior care facility as big as theirs -- but staffing is down drastically.

“We’ve had staffing shortages in the kitchen, we’ve had staffing shortages with our aides, I’ve had staffing shortages with activities,” Mianecki said.

“I have not seen anything like this in my lifetime,” said David Miller, the village’s executive director.

According to Miller, the facility is down 35 full-time positions, ranging from nurses to food service to ground crews. The biggest need is direct care workers, like nurses, nurse aides and resident aides.

Until facilities like the Village of East Harbor are able to secure more staff, some of their beds will remain empty.

“We have to slow down the admissions process and manage the people that are living here better with the staffing we have,” Miller said. “We haven’t closed anything down, but there are areas where there are several vacant rooms.”

Leaving beds open seems like an easy fix to the staffing problem, but it’s only a temporary solution. Long term, having empty beds is problematic when someone needs them.

“It’s tough to send people from the hospital to the nursing center because people can’t find enough staff to care for them,” Miller said. “They’re not able to find nursing homes that are available to send people.”

The Village of East Harbor is part of a larger nonprofit called the Presbyterian Villages of Michigan, which has 32 facilities in the state. Officials say every single one of their care centers is affected by staffing shortages.

And Miller says that despite competitive wages, good benefits, sign-on bonuses and paid training, there are still not enough applicants. Last year, Miller says that the coronavirus pandemic was, of course, a factor -- but not so much this year.

“Obviously there’s the vaccine available,” Miller said. “We can test people regularly to protect our seniors, so I don’t know that it’s a fear factor anymore.”

Staff members are multitasking while they await new applicants, but that can’t last forever. Miller says they just hope more workers come soon to what they call an extremely rewarding career.

Worker shortage having ripple effect on schools

By Nick Monacelli

School districts across Metro Detroit are struggling with staff shortages for nearly every position.

Most schools have only been in session for about a month, but nearly all of them have been having a tough go of it due to staff shortages.

A nationwide worker shortage is being felt by all industries, and is creating a ripple effect within schools and their classrooms -- including those in Metro Detroit. Over in Plymouth, the Plymouth-Canton Community Schools district is short on staff, especially custodians, in which only 40 out of 80 positions are filled.

“I have to come in early every day, do extra work to keep it going,” said Ryan Anton, a custodian at Farrand Elementary School in Plymouth.

While employees like Anton keep things moving along, the district and its custodial contractor are working to fill open positions -- and though they’re struggling, the superintendent says they have tried everything.

“(We’ve been) offering signing bonuses of $1,000, doing ride shares, really thinking outside the box,” said superintendent Monica Merritt.

The district isn’t just struggling to hire custodial staff: Plymouth-Canton Schools are also trying to hire electricians, plumbers, over 1,000 para-professionals, more than 20 in food services and nine bus drivers.

“... (if) a transportation person is sick, a bus driver, we don’t have subs in that space, so that route is cancelled,” Merritt said. “Every staff member is so valuable, and we don’t have people here to readily replace.”

The labor shortage is inconvenient for the families, too, as they have to figure out how to get the children to school if bus routes are canceled.

“It’s just across the board -- a lot of (job) openings,” Merritt said. “We are coming together to make it happen, but we need to get the word out there.”

Worker shortage has Metro Detroit police departments ramping up recruitment efforts

By Nick Monacelli

Amid an ongoing national worker shortage, police departments are also struggling with hiring new officers. One Metro Detroit police department is ramping up their recruitment efforts in response.

Local police departments are not immune to the massive worker shortage stinging businesses and organizations nationwide.

Police departments across Metro Detroit are facing a shortage of officers, and are looking to hire right away.

“There’s definitely a crunch with hiring police officers and getting our departments fully staffed,” said Sterling Heights Police Chief Dale Dwojakowski. “At a certain point, if you can’t staff a police department, there are going to be problems down the road.”

Right now, the Sterling Heights Police Department is down three officers. Come January, they’ll need seven more.

In the meantime, officials say officers will have to pull back on proactive policing.

“A reactive police department is just literally going to 911 calls,” Dwojakowski said. “What you want your offers doing is going behind those buildings, commercial areas, cruising those subdivision streets at night, looking for trouble. But if you’re always on a run and the second you clear the run you’re going to another one, you’re not doing the proactive policing.”

Officials in Sterling Heights and across the region can’t figure out why the applicant numbers have dropped so much.

Of course, some people have decided police work isn’t for them. But in Sterling Heights, pay tops out at $90,000, and that’s before overtime.

Dwojakowski’s police department offers a pension, and he says someone could retire at age 51 with their pension. He also says that officers have the opportunity to take on several different roles, even all at once, within the department and their community.

In an effort to recruit more officers, the Sterling Heights Police Department has been utilizing their own recruitment team and have been sending them across the state. Dwojakowski says the department is being represented at tons of job fairs, churches and even at high schools.

But until the police department can find enough qualified candidates, they have to modify their day-to-day operations.

From Sept. 6: Expiration of $300 weekly unemployment boost impacts nearly half a million Michigan residents

The expiration of the $300 weekly unemployment benefit boost impacts nearly 9 million people across the country.

It’s a big change for many who are collecting state and federal unemployment benefits. The expiration impacts 450,000 Michigan residents.

Many collecting state benefits in Michigan have been frustrated with a flawed system. The website crashes often and many have experienced payment issues, among other problems.

Read: Michigan lawmakers call for change as frustration grows over unemployment system

Lawmakers in Lansing have said they’re working to fix those issues and they want their constituents to know they’re there for them.

“We want to make sure Michiganders who have been receiving these temporary benefits are aware of the other resources available to help them get back on their feet and find new employment opportunities,” Michigan UIA Director Liza Estlund Olson said.

More: Jobs 4 You -- Available positions in Metro Detroit

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