Illinois pizzeria owner begs for help as future of workforce hangs in the balance

Michael Okun says he's having trouble recruiting employees despite offering incentives, federal aid fading

An Illinois pizzeria owner said on Monday that he is begging for help as the future of the workforce hangs in the balance while business owners deal with labor shortages and government funding comes to an end. 

Joanie's Pizzeria owner Michael Okun argued on Monday that people are "still getting government funded money" and noted that even though he is doing everything he can to incentivize workers, he is still having trouble recruiting employees.

Okun told FOX Business’ Grady Trimble that he has been shuffling workers around all his different businesses to stay open, stressing that the situation is "so tough right now." 

"What we’ve done is cross-trained,"Okun told Trimble during a live interview on "Varney & Co." on Monday. 


"My head chef over at Chatter Box [restaurant] comes over here and helps us and we have the bartenders moving back and forth." 

Earlier this month it was revealed that the latest JOLTS report on job openings sat at 10.6 million by the end of November after hitting a record 11.03 million the month before. The data comes before the highly contagious omicron variant of the coronavirus began disrupting the economy. Data for December job openings will be released on Tuesday. 

It was also revealed earlier this month that a record number of Americans quit their jobs in November 2021, underscoring how persistent turmoil in the labor market has made it difficult for employers to fill open positions.

The Labor Department said earlier this month that an unprecedented 4.5 million Americans, or about 3% of the workforce, quit their jobs November, matching the high from September. That's up from 4.2 million in October and tops the previous record of 4.4 million in September. The pre-pandemic level was about 3.6 million.

Resignations in November were concentrated – one of the industries hit hardest by the pandemic – accommodation and food services, as well as health care and social assistance, transportation, housing and utilities. A majority of people quit for a new job.

Okun said he has been offering workers more money, a 401k and health insurance and he is still "not getting anybody."

He stressed that he believes money from the government during the pandemic has "absolutely" contributed to the problem. 

"I think they are still getting government-funded money," Okun stressed, referencing the fact that many people had more to spend because of the stimulus checks issued during the pandemic. 

As more people got vaccinated this past spring and demand for dining and shopping rebounded, businesses were faced with the challenge of trying to meet the soaring demand. Also contributing to the worker shortage, many of the hourly employees found new jobs as they redefined their priorities. 

The issued forced employers, like Okun, to look for ways to make their jobs seem more attractive while some were also forced to cut back on hours of operation

According to a September survey from the National Restaurant Association, the vast majority of restaurant owners polled said their restaurants reduced hours of operation on days it was open for business from June through August. The survey also found that nearly half of those polled said they closed their restaurant on the days that it would normally be open during that time frame. 


When asked what he thinks is in store for 2022, Okun said he hopes that the situation will improve now that government funding is expiring. 

"We do see a little blip where some people are starting to come out and want to work," he said, adding that, still, he recently had to beg a friend who had retired to help him with his businesses amid the current labor shortage and now that friend is managing the pizzeria.


FOX Business’ Megan Henney and The Associated Press contributed to this report.