MILWAUKEE — Black Shoe Hospitality in Milwaukee is still greatly feeling the impact of COVID-19.
"We are down about 40 to 50 percent at most of our restaurants in staffing," said Jason Kerstein, the company's director of operations.
Like many businesses in the service sector, they're struggling to replace workers who left the field earlier in the pandemic.
"We're just thankful we're still here, a lot of restaurants didn't make it," said Kerstein.
Black Shoe is now considering the potential impact of a federal vaccine mandate for large employers.
On Thursday, President Biden ordered vaccination for private-sector employees, health care workers, and federal contractors. The mandate could impact up to 100 million Americans.
His government's decision is an effort to fight the rise of the COVID-19 delta variant.
The mandate for the private sector would impact companies with 100 or more employees. Black Shoe has just over 100 workers, though they had many more before the pandemic.
Kerstein said they've kept vaccination optional for their employees -- including those at their three restaurants, Blue's Egg, Maxies and Story Hill BKC -- while promoting the shot and closely following Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines.
"We don't want to hide behind a mandate. But it might make it easier for us as employers to say, look, this is a decision coming from outside of our organization," said Kerstein.
According to the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC), there were 1,351 businesses in 2016 with more than 100 employees. There were 37,051 in the area with less than 100 workers.
Wisconsin has already required all state employees to get vaccinated or test weekly before reporting to work.
The City of Milwaukee has issued a similar mandate, and Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) voted Thursday to require vaccination.
Those without exemptions who refuse to comply at the local and state levels may be fired.
It's still unclear how private-sector workers could be punished for refusing to follow the federal guidelines.
Charity Stephens, a server at Blue's Egg, said she supports a mandate to protect employees and customers, especially younger people like her 11-year-old daughter who's still too young to receive the shot.
"Let's do this. Let's get back to normal. This is the best way we can do it, so, we gotta work together to get back to that in my opinion," said Stephens.