The Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association (FRLA) shared its concerns over the state’s hospitality labor shortage during a U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Tourism, Trade and Export Promotion.
On Tuesday, FRLA President and CEO Carol Dover testified before a newly created subcommittee, sounding the alarm on Florida’s workforce that continues to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. Led by Nevada Senator Jacky Rosen and Florida Senator Rick Scott, both from huge tourism states, the subcommittee has jurisdiction over economic development matters related to tourism, trade, and U.S. exports.
During the hearing, Dover focused on the devastating impacts of the pandemic on the state’s hospitality industry, which was a nearly $112 billion industry pre-COVID, as well as the tourism industry, which has long been the economic engine of the state of Florida. She also focused heavily on the industry’s recovery efforts and ongoing challenges, including historic labor challenges.
Dover remarked that despite being open and functioning at full capacity, Florida’s hospitality operators are unable to fill open positions, resulting in a labor squeeze during a period of skyrocketing unemployment.
“Simply put, we are competing with state and federal unemployment benefits,” Dover told members of the subcommittee. “Workers tell us they make too much on unemployment to return to work. So businesses are forced to limit capacity and shorten their hours without adequate staff to serve guests.”
According to FRLA, which represents 10,000 Florida hotels, restaurants, theme parks and other businesses, more than 62 percent of the state’s hospitality employees were either laid off or furloughed as a result of the COVID-19 fallout.
Dover says she was grateful for the opportunity to shed light on the hurdles facing the Sunshine State’s hospitality industry, noting how vital it is to reinforce the foundation of Florida’s business community.
“Florida’s tourism and hospitality industry has been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Dover said following her testimony. “It was an honor to testify before the U.S. Senate to discuss our recovery efforts and the roadblocks we still face. In Florida, we are facing historic labor challenges as we are competing with state and federal unemployment benefits. Workers tell us they are making too much money to come back, so restaurants have been forced to limit capacity and close on days they are regularly open. There are few delivery drivers, and we cannot get food, beverages, and supplies. Something needs to change. Florida is open for business but desperate for workers.”
Apart from Dover’s testimony, FRLA also sent a letter earlier this month to Governor Ron DeSantis, asking that the Governor reinstate job search requirements for benefits and to work with the appropriate state agency to resolve these critical workforce challenges.