CategoriesCEO Letter

Unemployment figures do not reflect reality. It doesn’t matter if “officially” there is 1%, 6%, or 10% unemployment in Illinois. The fact is that if you visit a factory, a restaurant, a construction site, a winery, the owners are going to tell you the same thing: “WE NEED PEOPLE… and we need them now!”

Until 3 or 4 years ago, there was enough labor to meet the demand. Today however, the lack of unskilled workers is the biggest problem facing our economy, and will be for the next 20 years.

Economies are cyclical –and many problems repeat themselves. Whether some in Washington, D.C., or Springfield like it or not, it is also true that the pandemic has ushered in a new era in which new issues arise that need to be solved through legislation. And our Hispanic business community has much to contribute to the workforce to keep pace with the growing economy.

The franchisee of a McDonald’s in Tennessee made national news when he posted a sign at the entrance to the store warning about delays in AutoMac service order deliveries due to understaffing: “We are short-staffed. Be patient with the employees who showed up for work. No one wants to work.” Someone uploaded a video of the sign, which went viral.

With more and more people getting the Covid-19 vaccine, life is returning to relative normalcy after the pandemic restrictions, but many restaurants are having trouble hiring staff.

In Chicago, I know dozens of small business owners who lament that they have had to keep their business closed or limit their operation because they can’t find people willing to work.

I don’t believe that the only problem is that many people prefer to receive financial assistance from the government. Thousands of workers in the tourism and gastronomy industries walked away from their jobs during the pandemic. They retrained, and now they don’t want to go back. The National Restaurant Association of the United States warned that, nationwide, more than 110,000 establishments have had to keep closed their doors or limit their operations permanently due to the situation.

The worst thing we can do is to stand idly by. Criticizing without doing anything about it makes no sense. Many business owners are aware of the problem. However, they are not putting enough pressure on their district legislators to let them know that this is a problem that threatens the existence of their businesses.

One solution is to extend the H-2B visa program that was created for temporary, non-agricultural workers. Currently, this type of visa is rarely issued and renewed. A Chicago restaurant can’t bring in two parrilleros (line cooks) from Mexico, train them, and then, after six months, tell them to go back to their country, never to return. That doesn’t make sense.

The legislation governing visas was made decades ago and never was well enforced. No American citizen wants to do that job. Due to lack of staff, more and more restaurants can’t open for breakfast or extend their hours into the evening. And if we don’t allow people to come and take those jobs, with documents in order, the local economies will suffer greatly.

It’s easy to criticize. But we need to sit down at the table and take action. Otherwise, we will continue to complain about the lack of labor, and the growth of our businesses will continue to be limited. The Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (IHCC) is here to help. We want to be part of the solution.

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