Michigan labor shortage has businesses struggling to hire workers

Jun 21, 2021
Originally published on June 22, 2021 6:45 am

The state of Michigan will take a major step toward normal as most state COVID-19 restrictions are lifted on Tuesday. 

But many businesses continue to struggle with one lingering effect of the pandemic: a labor shortage.

At a legislative committee hearing Thursday, state lawmakers heard from representatives from different industries. Tony Daoud operates gas stations in the Flint area. He blames pandemic jobless benefits that pay more than he does for his business’ struggle to recruit and retain hourly workers.

“It’s the only conversation we have now with everybody in the industry,” says Daoud. “No workers no staff. It’s a constant battle.”

The state House voted to eliminate a $300 weekly federal bonus in state jobless benefits. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is expected to veto the bill if it reaches her desk. 

Whitmer is asking lawmakers to reinstate certain employers' ability to hire new workers who, while working, would still get a $300-a-week unemployment benefit into early September. The governor is touting Michigan's "workshare" program as a return-to-work incentive as companies struggle to fill jobs amid the pandemic.  It provides partial jobless benefits when businesses bring back laid-off employees at reduced hours or they cut workers' hours rather than let them go.

Others testifying before the legislative committee Thursday pointed to recruiting issues that pre-date the pandemic.

“We had pinch points on our labor situation before the pandemic,” says Glenn Stevens, the executive director of MICH Auto, an auto industry group, “The pandemic has only made them amplified and it has brought some new issues which we’re all dealing with.”

In May, Michigan’s unemployment rate remained relatively stable, standing at 5%. Nationally, the unemployment rate stands at 5.8%.

To deal with the labor shortage, Michigan employers have offered increased pay, sign-on bonuses, and large job fairs.

General Motors hosted a two-day job fair on Wednesday and Thursday in Flint. The automaker is looking to fill 450 temporary part-time and full time jobs for a subsidiary at its Flint assembly plant.  

Hundreds of people lined up outside Factory One, GM’s original plant in the heart of Flint.

“It’s an opportunity to make more money than what I’m making now,” said Robert Miller, who’s been working at Genesee County meals on wheels, as he stood in line on Thursday.

Ed Douby is the plant manager at Flint Assembly. He says most of the jobs are intended to help current employees get time-off during the summer.

He says turn out for the in-person job fair exceeded expectations.

“There’s some definite things we’re going to learn from this,” says Douby. 

He says the in-person job fair helped people to apply for work who lack the computer skills or access to apply online.

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