Labor markets struggle to keep and find workers across the country

May 15, 2020  | 4 min  | Ep4539

The federal government continues to allocate money for recovery as parts of the U.S. begin to reopen - albeit cautiously.

The third in a series of massive relief bills has become a political football. The $3 trillion package created in the House is expected to encounter rough waters in the Senate.

Farmers and ranchers are still waiting for details about distribution of the $16 billion promised in version two.

More states are reopening for business but the problem now has become finding labor for front line jobs like food production.

John Torpy reports.

    COVID 19’s impact on the labor market varies across the country. From harvest in the nation’s salad bowl to processing meat in the Midwest to manufacturing in the South, no part of the workforce has been spared. 
Numerous processing plants have been temporarily shuttered due to the spread of COVID-19. The closures have resulted in some shortages for consumers as producers struggle with over supply.
      Mark Lauritsen, Director of Meat Processing for the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, says the key for meat packers to remain operational is preserving the safety of their workforce in the face of the coronavirus. 
Mark Lauritsen, Vice President, United Food and Commercial Workers Union: there's plenty of supply from the hog producers and the cattle ranchers, plenty of supply there. There's still demand out there. People are eating at home more. So there's demand and then there's a part in the middle. So it's the meat packing plant, the food processing plants. But that's where the stress was coming. And that stress can only be alleviated when those workers for safe and they feel safe and they know that when they go to work, they're not going to be taking home COVID to their families and to their children. That's the priority one. Making sure that those workers are safe.”
      On the west coast, farm workers who routinely migrate to California for the annual springtime harvest of specialty crops have been showing up in fewer numbers. But officials say it’s not fear of catching coronavirus keeping workers away, but rather the economic side effects the pandemic has served up.
Secretary Karen Ross, California Department of Food and Agriculture: ”There's so much uncertainty right now because of that very sudden shift and losing the food service component, like just in California itself, food service at restaurants, cafeterias and off-premise is about a million meals a day. And then you take that country that sudden loss of food service was happening right when people were making their normal planting or so they could harvest according to their food service contracts. So that has created some disruption in that side. And there may be some that chose not to plant some of that acreage in spring crops.” 
      As restaurants begin to open and demand for fruits and vegetables starts to rise, some business owners fear seasonal workers might not return. 
Secretary Karen Ross, California Department of Food and Agriculture: “So part of it is that some people speculate maybe we won't need as many H2A workers this year, but it's too early in the season to know that or to know what reopening, what that is going to look like and what those markets will be.”
      In the Lone Star state, those living and working in the oil fields of the Permian Basin have been dealt two bad hands.
Ken Becker, Sweetwater Economic Development: “I think one of the things that hits us worse in West Texas, in the oil and gas area is that we can handle an oil and gas decline, and we can handle a COVID. But when you stack both of them on top of each other, it's like getting hit with a sledgehammer twice.”
      In Sweetwater, Texas, assembly of goods for the wind and solar industry, along with the production of construction materials, has helped slow the economic damage and job loss caused by the pandemic. Sales tax revenue throughout Nolan County had seen eight months of positive growth but the recent decline in oil prices stopped that expansion in March. Officials with Sweetwater Economic Development predict the drop will continue for the near future. 
Ken Becker, Sweetwater Economic Development: “The oil and gas industry has dropped and we're fortunate that even though we have that industry here, it's not one of the largest industries in our county. So it hasn't affected us as much as it will further west.” 
For Market to Market, I’m John Torpy
Contact: @TVTorpy

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