Sick Calls Amid COVID Surge Exacerbate Labor Shortage

Staffing problems have already been impacting restaurants and other businesses in Massachusetts, but with COVID-19 cases continuing to climb to new highs, workers are calling out

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It was a busy Thursday night at the popular Frenchie Wine Bistro in Boston's South End, but dead silent at its sister restaurant Collette Wine Bistro in Cambridge.

"It is quite frustrating, because we want to run a business as much as we can," said Philippine Hamilton, the director of hospitality at both restaurants.

She had to shut down Collette for the week because of staffing issues.

"People getting sick," said Hamilton. "We don't have that many staff, and we're not able to open for the week."

Staffing problems have plagued businesses since the economy reopened last year. And the labor shortage has been exacerbated in recent weeks by the surge in sick calls as COVID-19 cases have increased to record levels.

Leaders in Lawrence are urging people to stay home this New Year's Eve with surging COVID-19 cases.

"It's a whole system-wide kind of tsunami," said Anna Nagurney, professor at the UMass Amherst Isenberg School of Management.

She has been writing about labor issues since the pandemic began.

"We need to be paying workers the wages that they deserve. Otherwise, we won't be able to attract them," said Nagurney.

She adds that besides better pay, workers need to feel safer.

"They need good working environments, we need better ventilation now, they should have access to PPE," she said.

Nagurney says the crisis has hit almost every sector.

Thousands of flights have been canceled nationwide, in part because of sick calls due to COVID.

If you've tried to get an afternoon coffee at Starbucks, you'll find many are shutting down early or completely closed on certain days.

Hospitals have brought in the National Guard to help.

And the long lines at COVID testing centers seen day after day are due, in part, to there not being enough employees to staff the sites.

"It's primarily a staff issue that almost everybody else in today's economy has," said Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker on Thursday.

Two trains on the MBTA Commuter Rail's Newburyport/Rockport Line were canceled Thursday. Keolis, the company that operates the Commuter Rail, said an engineer learned of a possible close contact with COVID-19 and needed to be tested.

"Passengers were accommodated on the next trains within 30 minutes," a Keolis spokesperson said in a statement to NBC10 Boston. "As is the case with many public transportation operators across the country, we continue to closely monitor the surge in COVID-19 cases. We will let riders know as soon as possible of any impacts to regular service."

Hamilton says she still hasn't been able to restart weekend brunch at Collette –- the lucrative meal has been shuttered since the pandemic.

"We would like to reopen for brunch, but so far, we haven't been able to find any kitchen staff," she said.

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