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For months now, San Diego restaurants have been complaining about a lack of workers, as businesses open back up to the public.

“Employers in San Diego say the reason they’re faced with such a high unemployment rate, which is 0.8 percent higher than the national average, is the $300 weekly unemployment benefits laid-off workers are receiving from the federal government. In some cases, hourly workers earn more on benefits than returning to their former jobs,” Newsweek wrote.

Republican lawmakers who took issue with providing extra unemployment benefits during the pandemic warned that those benefits would be more enticing than working were partly right – only they misdiagnosed the source of the problem. It’s not that workers are suddenly unwilling to work; it’s that employers have long been unwilling to pay them what they need to live.

“Employers post their too-low wages, can’t find workers to fill jobs at that pay level, and claim they’re facing a labor shortage,” Heidi Shierholz, senior economist and director of policy at the Economic Policy Institute, wrote in a recent op-ed that was noted by Vox. “I often suggest that whenever anyone says, ‘I can’t find the workers I need,’ she should really add, ‘at the wages I want to pay.’”

Workers at Sycuan Casino who are pushing to form a union told us they’re often forced to work through breaks, and that promised bonuses were rescinded.

And in a shock to no one, Uber is clawing back many of the flexible options it gave to workers in the run-up to the Prop. 22 campaign, in which the company successfully wrote itself out of state labor laws.

A San Diego Uber driver told the Los Angeles Times that many drivers were supportive of Prop. 22, presumably at least in part because of assurances the company made that it was the best way to ensure their jobs. “Now they feel completely deceived. A storm is coming,” he said.

A San Diego restaurant owner made big waves when he told the U-T that restaurants were offering higher pay and other perks in order to entice workers.

But what they haven’t mentioned while making these complaints is that groups that represent them, like the California Restaurant Association, have vigorously fought new laws to protect workers, including lobbying against measures to bolster paid sick leave during a pandemic.

Uber and other gig companies poured tens of millions of dollars fighting to avoid having to provide benefits like health care to workers during a pandemic.

I love restaurants and want them to thrive. But I think we should all take with a grain of salt companies’ insistence that they are the victims of a labor shortage. Just as likely is that workers have been the victims of unfair pay and practices all along, and the pandemic has begun to turn the tables.

What VOSD Learned This Week

Cal State San Marcos went through a yearlong process to fire a professor who harassed multiple students. But once his union appealed, the school quickly agreed to let him keep his job. We talked about this story and the trends we’ve seen from years of investigating misconduct in local schools on this week’s podcast.

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More fallout from Will Huntsberry’s big investigation into financial mismanagement and potential fraud at Volunteers of America Southwest: The VA has pulled millions of dollars in funding from the organization, and its CEO and entire board are out.

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The franchise fee may be settled, but the city and SDG&E are still fighting over undergrounding power lines.

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Local governments are still on track to dole out just a fraction of rent relief money, despite great need from tenants and landlords. Meanwhile, Solana Beach is warning residents about state bills meant to spur more housing.

What I’m Reading

Line of the Week

“Essentially an extra-thick milkshake swirled with crushed candy or cookies, the Blizzard is a simple concept enhanced by showmanship. Traditionally, an employee briefly flips the cup upside-down as she hands it over the counter, a flourish intended to prove its thickness. (I got a mild thrill a few years ago when I saw a Blizzard fail this test, slopping spectacularly onto an indoor table at a New Hampshire DQ. Call it — forgive me — schadenfrozen.)” – Chef’s kiss.

Sara Libby

Sara Libby was VOSD’s managing editor until 2021. She oversaw VOSD’s newsroom and content.

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