TOMS RIVER – The problem of finding workers these days would seem to be harder than you’d expect even as the summer season fast approaches.
That is why Ocean County Commissioner Joseph Vicari asked a prominent business owner to share his story during a recent meeting of the Ocean County Board of Commissioners.
Joe Leone Introna, a noted caterer and Italian food store operator in Point Pleasant Beach spoke about a worker shortage that is not only impacting his business but one he fears will impact the upcoming tourism season and the county’s economy.
Vicari told Jersey Shore Online.com prior to the meeting, “You can’t cheat the system. If you are unemployed that is one thing, but you can’t find a loophole. Some people are collecting money from the state and also working under the table and collecting money. You can’t do that. You have to play by the rules. Legal is legal, illegal is illegal. You just can’t do that.”
“This is very important to us because it hurting our industry. It is hurting our food business and in the long term we are going to see inflation like we have never seen before. What is going to happen next year at this time?” Vicari asked.
Introna said during the public comment period of the meeting, “I am absolutely shocked about how small businesses are being hurt and I consider myself very blessed. What I feel we are being faced with is a labor crisis. I do a lot of catering so I’m driving around and everywhere I see business owners providing incentives like signing on if you work for three months like at Wawa or McDonald’s going up to $16-$17 an hour. We are able to pay a bit more than your regular deli and I am a few dollars above the minimum wage because you get what you pay for.”
“What is surprising to me is the other businesses like landscaping, the laundromat, the pizzerias and it is everywhere. We’re putting help wanted notes everywhere. People are filling out the applications but not showing up. That has been extremely frustrating,” Introna added. “When you are paying an individual with a salary of $65,000 a year, a recruiter to come in to actually recruit new team members and people are actually not showing up.”
“I’m trying to bring awareness to everyone in the state including our governor. I see press conferences by Governor (Phil) Murphy and the Labor Department and they are saying this isn’t a problem and that we are doing fine.” Introna said he created an e-mail and phone line connected to a fax machine to connect with businesses throughout the state to help illustrate that a problem does exist.
He compiled an archive of 150 photos and information in a bound folder that he brought to the meeting that he hopes to soon present to the governor.
Introna said he was in fear of businesses closing down. He said workers are working very hard in the service industry operating curb side, checking temperatures and coping with other COVID-19 conditions, many with added hours. It is starting to get busy and he has noted that his business is feeling the shortage as well.
“I don’t know what the answer is, “Introna said. “Governor Murphy made a comment that people were in carnage and were in desperate need of government services. Maybe they are but I was raised that work is survival, have fun, enjoy what you do but in the end its survival. If your family is in carnage, are you going to wait for a government check to come in? There are good hardworking people out there but they are getting tired and they are saying I am working for $900 a week and you have kids 21 years old that is gaming the system and making $24 an hour sitting at home.”
“Regardless of the industry, there is an apparent lack of individuals that are willing to work. Jobs are available, but they remain unfilled,” Introna said. He noted some applicants expressed an interest in accepting a job offer if they got paid in cash in order to continue to collect state unemployment.
“I understand what he’s saying,” Brick resident Sam Foster said. “I was looking for part-time work and got a job at ShopRite as a cashier. They were desperate. They kept on asking me to put in more hours but after a while, I couldn’t do it.”
Vicari remarked that Introna’s efforts have attracted the attention of some media outlets and business organizations across the State. “Tourism is a $5 billion industry in Ocean County and annually results in more than 40,000 jobs.”
“Every tourism dollar spent in Ocean County circulates seven times. It’s our economic engine and if we cannot fill many of those jobs, we will feel the adverse effect on our businesses and the economy for years to come,” Vicari added.
John Crisafulli heads the Central Ocean Business Association that formed four years ago and includes six communities in Ocean County. He told the Board, “Business owners are offering incentives, bonuses, and yet people are not showing up for job interviews even after making an appointment to do so.”
Crisafulli’s organization has hosted meetings with elected officials on all levels of government to express their concerns. “We will continue to bring this message to our elected leaders and to the community,” Crisafulli said. “This pandemic has created enough harm to our businesses. We want our businesses to be able to move beyond the virus and go successfully forward. We can’t do that without a workforce.”
Director of the Ocean County Board of Commissioners Gary Quinn said, “our businesses, and especially our small businesses, are the heart and soul of our economy. We have worked with them throughout the pandemic, assisting with grant opportunities so they can keep their doors open. As we see state regulations associated with the pandemic lifted, we want all of our businesses to thrive.”