By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — Gov. Tony Evers says he’s seen “no data” on Wisconsin’s worker shortage made worse by his stubborn refusal to end a generous federal pandemic-related unemployment bonus.
If only he had some sign showing him the way.
Consider yourself served, governor.
Storefronts, restaurants, taverns and small businesses from Sturtevant to Superior are filled with signs — Help Wanted signs begging for workers.
In the words of the Five Man Electrical Band, sign, sign, everywhere a sign.
But Evers cares not. On Tuesday, the governor quietly vetoed a bill that would end the $300 weekly unemployment enhancer.
“After weeks of government-forced shutdowns under the governor’s direction, we should be doing everything we can in our power to help give our local businesses a hand up,” said Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke (R-Kaukauna. “Unfortunately, the actions taken today by the governor shows he and his Democrat colleagues are more interested in finding ways to keep people dependent on big-government than they are about helping our small businesses and job creators succeed.
The worker shortage problem is particularly taxing in tourism towns like Eagle River. Already hit hard by the pandemic and Evers’ lockdowns, restaurants like Buckshots are being bruised again by the worker shortage.
“Thank you for your understanding, due to our staff Kitchen shortage, your food may take longer than usual,” a sign in the business’ window warns.
They’re not alone. Other restaurants are closing multiple days a week, limiting hours, doing whatever they can to survive the bone-dry labor pool.
Kim Emerson, executive director of Eagle River Chamber of Commerce, says there are a number of factors driving the worker shortage, including the dearth of foreign employees who have long spent their summers working in resort towns. But many businesses say the $300 weekly federal unemployment bonus is making it more tempting for some unemployed Wisconsinites to stay on the sidelines.
“These businesses in the Eagle River area are doing their darnedest to say open, doing everything they can to make sure that happens,” Emerson said. “That’s one reason you’re seeing these signs.”
The only one apparently not seeing the signs — or at least reading them — is Tony Evers. You really can’t blame him, though. The governor doesn’t get out much. He likes to stay in his comfortable, self-important Madison bubble as much as possible.
Evers did leave long enough on Tuesday, however, to visit his good friend and ice cream-licking buddy, President Joe Biden in La Crosse. Biden was in America’s Dairyland to do his dog-and-pony “infrastructure” show.
“While President Biden is in Wisconsin today, I hope he takes note of the “Help Wanted” signs across the state,” U.S. Rep. Bryan Steil (R-Janesville) said in a statement. “The worker shortage is a direct consequence of costly, inefficient policies from Washington.”
Steil noted that Evers has the power to end the federal incentive, as more than half of the states are doing. On Tuesday, he vetoed the bill that would have had Wisconsin follow suit.
“By now, we all know of at least one business that is actively seeking employees, has been forced to reduce its hours, or even had to close their doors because of the worker shortage,” Steineke said. “That’s why it is absolutely mind-boggling to learn our governor thinks we should still be paying folks an extra $300 per month to sit home on their couch.
Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, the state’s largest business advocate, has for weeks been urging Evers to read the signs, or as WMC President and CEO Kurt Bauer has said, “connect the dots.” A WMC Employer Survey released last week shows Wisconsin’s workforce shortage has become a workforce emergency, with nearly nine in 10 businesses struggling to hire.
But the signs in the Eagle River storefront windows say it all.
“Due to lack of employees, we had to make some hard decisions and are truly sorry for the inconvenience,” Eagle Baking Co. wrote to its customers, noting it was forced to continue its more limited winter hours.