Flyers and signs on storefronts, ads in the Daily Mirror and posts on hiring websites all reveal the same thing about Kodiak: There is a shortage of workers. While businesses are trying to bring in more workers, employees are working longer hours and taking on more tasks to make up for the deficit.
At McDonald’s, there are only 37 workers in total, including minors who work part time in the afternoon, according to Ocean Linchantha, who works at the front counter. Right now, McDonald’s is offering a signing bonus to anyone who joins the crew as an incentive. Despite the offer, the restaurant is still severely short staffed, which puts stress on the employees.
Linchantha, who has worked at McDonald’s for three years, has been in almost every position in the restaurant. Even though he works at the front now, he often picks up extra tasks, as does everyone else, he said. On top of that, almost every employee at McDonald’s works between 30 minutes to an hour of overtime after their shifts while they wait for the next crew to arrive, according to Linchantha.
“It’s a lot,” Linchantha said. “We usually would have five or six people in the building: two on the drive through, one in the kitchen, one in the front (and a manager). At least 10 people is ideal.”
Different stores are taking different tactics. After two years of working through pandemic, picking up extra hours, people are tired, Safeway’s Front End Manager Nate Belagner said. However, since staffing is still short and people still take sick days and vacations, the staff needs to be as flexible as possible, so the store is moving away from overtime and is instead training all of its employees to work in multiple departments.
The Public Works Department for the City of Kodiak is taking a different approach for some of its jobs. Currently, the Public Works Department has only one employee working on composting, and he is planning on leaving soon, according to Steve Wilson, the acting public works director. To compensate for this, Public Works is contracting two people through Jerry’s Tree Service, according to Wilson, although Public Works is looking for fulltime people to work in compost.
However, the Public Works Department isn’t turning into contracted workers to fill all of its positions. In certain situations, people just need to work overtime.
When it is fully staffed, the maintenance department has 13 workers and an employee. Recently, a worker from Texas was hired, which brings the vacancies in the department down to two positions, or 14% of the department, according to Wilson. However, there are still not enough people.
On Thursday, there was a major water leak near Island Lake, which needed almost all of the workers on the crew to address, according to Wilson. It’s large tasks like which necessitate employees to work overtime, Wilson said.
“Right now we’re getting by the best we can,” he said.
There are many reasons why people might abstain from working during the pandemic, according to Kevin Berry, an associate professor of economics at the University of Alaska Anchorage. As schools are moved to remote learning, public activities are reduced and people are getting sick, family obligations increase, he said. Safety is another concern — in the middle of the pandemic, many people are worried about catching the coronavirus, especially if their employers are not taking proper precautions against it, Berry said. Retail and hospitality jobs were hit especially hard during the pandemic, because of these concerns, he said.
Things have gotten worse since the Omicron variant reached the United States, Berry said. Even though the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services has only diagnosed seven cases of the Omicron variant in the state as of Wednesday, it is still concerning people.
This isn’t all bad news — the lack of participation in the workforce is actually empowering workers, Amy Lovecraft, a political science professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks said. Due to unemployment checks, more people have had the option to reevaluate their career path and search for better-paying jobs, she said. Also, the shortage of workers gives the people who are employed more bargaining power, according to Lovecraft.
Still, that doesn’t mean that, for the time being, work is any less of a struggle in companies that are short staffed.
“Over the next few weeks, we’ll all be better off if we try to, once again, remember to be kind to our neighbors, try and protect each other, and be patient with each other as we all work through the pandemic,” Berry said.