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President, CEO of NYS Restaurant Association says many factors contribute to 'worker shortage'

"I do think we need to look at all of these factors and all of the reasons workers aren't coming back into the workforce and have a bigger discussion."

NEW YORK — We've been seeing reports nationally and right here in Western New York about what's being called a 'restaurant worker shortage.'

However, the reason this is happening might not be as black and white as some people think, according to Melissa Fleischut, the president and CEO of the New York State Restaurant Association (NYSRA).

"There might be this perception issue about the industry but by and large I think it's more to do with the fact that they're all trying to hire back employees at the same time and all competing for the same job market pool," Fleischut said.

She also said there are other factors, like childcare concerns with remote learning still in effect to some extent. Fleischut told 2 On Your Side some people have left the workforce altogether, while others may have found employment elsewhere after the initial shutdown.

"And then I think there's probably another group that maybe they came back and they worked the summer and they worked the fall and the second shutdown that took place in some of our large metropolitan areas in New York State impacted them and they felt that there's a lot of uncertainty in our industry and they may have also chosen to go somewhere else and find a position that wasn't going to be impacted by all these fluctuations in restrictions the way the restaurant industry has," Fleischut said.

Fleischut said many restaurant owners are already doing what they can to appeal to more people.

She told 2 On Your Side, "I think that they are in a position where there is such great demand for employees that they are having to pay above the minimum wage, in some cases, extremely higher than minimum wage even in Western New York just to keep the employees that they have and even get a few more."

Fleischut also believes there are misconceptions about what's led to the worker shortage. 

"I definitely think that a lot of the story being spun is about the pandemic unemployment assistance and while I do think that that is important to discuss that, I do think that that has played a role in some of the reasons that some people have not returned to the industry, I don't think it's the only answer and I don't think it's the only reason," she explained. "So I do think we need to look at all of these factors and all of the reasons workers aren't coming back into the workforce and have a bigger discussion."