As California moves closer to its June 15 deadline for reopening, many business owners worry they won’t have enough labor. A labor shortage in the state makes it extremely difficult for businesses to keep up with growing demand, and this will only increase with reopening. With an inflated 8.3% unemployment rate and nearly 102,000 new jobs added to the market, it’s clear that something is holding people back from returning to work. For many minimum wage workers, the fear of contracting the coronavirus is still very prevalent. For others, employers are not offering enough compensation, and workers don’t feel properly taken care of. If business owners want workers to return to work, they need to meet the demands of the labor force. This means offering higher wages, safer working conditions and access to health benefits.  

Retail and fast-food workers are hesitant to return to work for many reasons. The main one is that for many, it’s not worth the struggle of having to deal with rude customers who don’t take COVID-19 restrictions seriously. Many of these interactions have gone viral on social media, where anti-maskers become angry when they are refused service. This anger puts these front-line workers in dangerous situations for being attacked in their place of work. Front-line workers are also directly put at risk for contracting COVID-19 in the workplace. Having to live in constant fear that you may be responsible for putting your entire household at risk can quickly start to feel like a heavy burden. We also have to take into account how much people’s lives have changed during the pandemic. Since the beginning, many child care facilities and schools have been closed, which has stopped a significant amount of women from returning to the workforce. Employers are also lacking in many areas, including wages, safety and employee benefits.  

As unemployment rates across the country hold steady, fast-food chains are starting to grow more desperate for labor. Chain restaurants like Applebee’s are offering candidates who go in for interviews a coupon for free appetizers. Other restaurants like Subway, McDonalds and Chipotle are offering referral and sign-on bonuses for new hires. However, new hire bonuses and free appetizers are not going to solve the issues which have resulted in thousands leaving the fast food workforce. Many fast-food workers felt stressed, overworked and underpaid, which has led many to make the decision to look for employment elsewhere. Employers need to first work on providing safer and more inclusive working conditions before trying to recruit more unsuspecting individuals. Front-line workers are constantly being harassed by customers who dehumanize them, so if employers want to welcome more workers back into the labor force, they need to guarantee a safer work environment 

If businesses want to attract future employees to work at their locations, they need to provide a greater amount of benefits. These benefits should not just be for new hires, but also pre-existing employees. Front-line workers need to be accurately paid for the hazardous work that they do. Multimillion-dollar corporations shouldn’t be paying their employees below the national minimum wage. These corporations should be held accountable for not paying their employees livable wages, especially right now with many of them constantly putting their own health on the line every time they walk into work. Workers shouldn’t have to put in crazy hours just to make enough money to survive. When front-line workers are expected to work so many hours, it leaves them vulnerable to being exploited by their employer. This then leads to workers feeling burnt out and overworked with little to no compensation. Employers need to prioritize the mental wellbeing of their employees because without them, their business will fail.   

The unemployment rates of the entire country are continuing to fluctuate. While they do so, we need to remember who is truly being affected in this situation: our millions of front-line workers. Without them, our country would come to a standstill; they are the backbone of our economy. We need to leave behind the stigma that comes along with working retail and fast-food jobs. These workers deserve to be paid wages that compensates them for the amount of work they do. As consumers, we need to practice more empathy and patience when interacting with front-line workers. 

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