These are signs people can find at seemingly most businesses, particularly restaurants, around Scottsboro. Some have been hit harder than others. While some restaurants like Ruby Tuesday’s have been able to maintain normal business hours, many others have had to start closing early in order to avoid overworking the employees they still have. While nobody seems to have the “right” answer, a majority believe the problem lies with how much people can be paid through unemployment.
“I can imagine they’re all filing unemployment and getting benefits, other than that how would they be able to stay at home and live without any income,” said Katrina Hammon, manager at Ruby Tuesday’s.
McDonald’s, one of the biggest fast food chains in the world that has always been a job open to most people, is feeling this effect as well. Megan Pratt, director of marketing for Valluzo Companies, says that staffing is down across the board for all 78 locations managed by Valluzo. These 78 locations are spread across Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana.
Ali Boone is a waitress and the acting manager at Geno’s Pizza and Grill. She’s been working there for five years. She’s currently waiting on five tables. During the interview, she’ll need to step away three separate times to wait on these tables, check out leaving customers, handle pick up orders, clean up tables for new customers to sit down and pour a man a drink at the bar.
“For me, a typical day, it’s busy, keeps me moving, I really don’t have a bad day. I don’t have bad customers, no complaints, my co-workers that we do have which I’m very, very grateful for, we all get along really well so a typical day is pretty good for me, pretty steady,” said Boone.
During the third break, she refers me to one of her co-workers because of how busy she’s become. That co-worker helped Boone clean up a lot of the tables as well as assist in pick up orders before she, too, has to step away.
“I’m truly grateful for the crew that we have, kitchen and front crew because we wouldn’t be where we are right now if it wasn’t for them. We wouldn’t be open right now if it wasn’t for them and for our loyal customers for coming in and being patient with us,” said Boone. “It does suck that people are getting all these monthly checks and they want to take off of work, if it’s what you want to do, take some time off, but it’s putting a really big effect on businesses like this. This is our job. This is what we do. This is my full-time job so this is where all my income comes from. I love my job and I don’t want to lose my job. As of right now, we’re not going to be a shutdown business and I’m very grateful for that. I just wish people would understand that and start going and getting these jobs that people need filled.”
Jefferson’s is in a similar pinch. They’ve begun cutting back their hours, unable to fill roles in their kitchen staff. Their staffing issues date back to December however they’ve been taking a turn for the worst over the last couple of months. Ads on Facebook, open interviews, reaching out to people who’ve submitted applications in the past. No luck. Jobs are still open.
“[Before cutting down the hours] we’ve had several people quit because the pressure is too much. You can only work somebody so many hours before they just wear out,” said Jessica Womack, the manager at Jefferson’s.
Along with the staffing cutting down on business hours, they’ve had some customers not as understanding about their predicament.
“We try to keep as positive as possible but it seems that in the last few months that the customers themselves have gotten more rude and hateful, so a bad day here lately has been pretty bad,” said Womack. “Having a short staff, it takes ticket times a little bit longer and takes a little bit longer to get seated so it is annoying for customers and I understand that, but our staff is doing the best that they can.”
According to the Alabama Department of Labor, estimated unemployment percentages have gone down each month of 2021, dropping from 3.1% in January to 2.5% in March.
Scottsboro Mayor Jim McCamy has had multiple conversations with the Mountain Lakes Chamber of Commerce and the Economic Development Authority about this issue. McCamy said that the EDA and IMPACT Learning Center had a job fair this week that “was not as successful as they would have hoped, I’m sure.”
“It’s the case everywhere, if you look, you’re seeing folks advertising and asking for employees all over Alabama. Even companies that normally haven’t had to reach out with ads are having to do that now,” said McCamy. “It’s not something we’re dealing with just here, it’s across the area and probably nationally.”
McCamy also suspects that the COVID relief funding along with the unemployment pay are the key contributors to this problem.
“[Unemployed people are] not going to come forward and say ‘I want a job and I can’t find one’ because that is absolutely incorrect. If they want a job here, they can find one,” said McCamy. “When you got these job fairs that they’ve had here and they don’t get results, when you got companies in Scottsboro that are advertising on Huntsville television for employees plus all the companies in Huntsville that are advertising for jobs, that’s never happened before. To me, that makes it pretty obvious that people aren’t wanting to work.”