Spotlight Exclusives

Coalition Looks To Fill Service Industry Labor Shortage

Misty Chally Misty Chally, posted on

As the service industry—hotels and restaurants in particular—tried to move back to full speed as the COVID-19 pandemic eased, it encountered a formidable problem: a lack of workers. Whether because of COVID-linked retirements, a change of life circumstance or other factors, hourly workers were found to be in alarmingly short supply. The Critical Labor Coalition was formed to help fill that gap by supporting bipartisan solutions such as tax breaks or immigration reform. CLC Executive Director Misty Chally spoke to Spotlight recently about some of the legislation that is currently being considered on Capitol Hill; the transcript has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Tell me how the Critical Labor Coalition got started.

 I’ve been in the government relations world for about 25 years and the last 15 years I was representing different franchisee associations—groups of franchisees that form associations usually to deal with issues with their franchisor, but also work together in other ways. I headed up a group called the Coalition of Franchisee Associations, or CFA, which is now about 18 different franchisee associations representing everybody from Subway to Planet Fitness to Burger King. Heading up that group, we were trying to look for ways to address issues that were impacting multiple members across the board, regardless of industry, and it turned out everybody was having a problem with the labor shortage.

That’s really how it started. We wanted to look at legislation that would help address the labor shortage and we knew that other groups were working on the immigration angle. So, we wanted to look at a different community and we thought, how about we start with seniors? Seniors are great community of workers. They’re reliable, they’re hard workers. Some of them had retired early because of COVID and maybe they needed to come back. I reached out to AARP and found out about a bill that they were supporting that would expand the Earned Income Tax credit for seniors. Because right now, if you are over 65 and don’t have a qualifying child, you are ineligible for the EITC.

I then got linked up with this group called Golden State Opportunity, an anti-poverty organization in California that was also looking to support this bill. And I thought, why aren’t we all working together? So, that’s really how it got started.

And your main focus still right on seniors and that specific legislation?

No, it began with retirees, but then the focus became much broader. How do we get low-income workers? How do we get guest workers here? How do we get second-chance workers? And as my membership grew, I’ve tried to get members to narrow their focus on two areas: tax incentives like the EITC, and guest programs—how do we address asylum seekers and refugees and guest workers? And then there’s a kind of third issue, which is second chance workers. We’re not really working on legislation there, but we’re working on outreach and education and matching up employers with second chance workers.

And by second chance workers, you mean formerly incarcerated persons, correct?

Yes. And that’s kind of my separate project because I’m really passionate about that. It seems to be something that’s missing right now, meaning a way for employers to match up with either probation and parole officers or second chance workers.

On the tax issues, are there specific things besides the EITC that you are looking at?

The Work Opportunity Tax Credit is a big issue—making sure that is extended and hopefully expanded to incentivize people to work. Also, supporting caregivers—because of COVID, the caregiving community shrunk and it’s very difficult to find caregivers now. There’s a bill called the Credit for Caring Act that we’re working with AARP on that would help people who have to work to also be able to come home and take care of a loved one.

There’s usually a work element to policies we support. We’re supportive of the expanded Child Tax Credit if it has a work incentive, things like that. But on caregiving, we’re very interested in supporting legislation that would give tax credits to employers that have child care centers or that pay for a portion of childcare for people that have to work, but also have to take their kids somewhere.

On the work permit front, immigration is obviously an incredibly divisive issue on the Hill. Are you finding that you can find some areas of agreement if you narrow it down to something very specific?

We’re trying. There are a couple of bipartisan bills—we only support bipartisan bills—from groups that don’t normally partner together. There’s a bill called the Asylum Seekers Work Authorization Act and what it does is allows asylum seekers, once they pass a background check, to be able to work within 30 days instead of waiting until their hearing, which could be years. They want to work, and we want them to work, so this seems to be a logical resolution.

I’m a big proponent of the Problem Solvers Caucus in the House and we had a call with them recently to talk about a bill called the Essential Workers for Economic Advancement Act. That’s our number one priority, which is a bipartisan bill in the House that would create a new guest worker visa program for the service industry—right now there’s really no visa program for that industry. There’s a seasonal worker program, which is good for some hotels and restaurants, but not year-round. Under this proposal, it would not be permanent; they could come and work and go back and even move to a different job if they chose to. They would be working in the service industry and really helping out the labor shortage.

Going back to the seniors, did you find from your coalition that the tax credit part of that was simply an easy way to find bipartisan consensus on doing something? Or did they find that that was really one of the biggest issues for people in deciding whether they were going take a job or not?

It was one factor. I don’t think there’s any silver bullet, but it was a big factor. And I will tell you that has been one of the most challenging areas to get bipartisan support, which surprises me.

That is surprising.

It’s because it costs money. If there’s a bill that’s tax-related that will cost money, usually those on the conservative side are a little more hesitant to support it.

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