KENOSHA, Wis. — On this Labor Day, the state of the Wisconsin workforce means a lot of places are struggling to find employees.
At the Kenosha Laborfest, unions like the Kenosha Professional Firefighters Union say the city is short-staffed with firefighters. Right now, there are 143 firefighters on staff.
“The number of people we are authorized for a maximum number. We are between six and nine short today and that’s even after hires because we have to replace people as they retire and we have to hire in blocks because we have to run them through the fire academy. There is always shortages, so there (are) a lot of people working overtime,” said firefighter Jeffrey Weidner who is also a member of the Kenosha Professional Firefighters union.
He says in the short term, a few extra hours is okay to cover for the missing staff, but there is a breaking point.
“There comes a point where there is a certain amount of recovery that we go through. As far as physical that there is a point. It doesn’t matter what they are paying, it is too many hours,” said Weidner.
It isn’t just the fire department that is looking for workers. Drive around downtown Kenosha and business after business says “We’re Hiring” and “Help Wanted.”
But there is some good news. In the U.S., the number of people working is at the highest level its been in nearly six months, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It is currently at 62.4 percent, which is up from 62.1 percent from the previous month.
On top of that, the unemployment rate is incredibly low in Wisconsin, according to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development. The latest numbers show it was at 3.3 percent. Federal reserve economics consider full employment between 4.2 and 4.7 percent.
The president of Kenosha’s AFL-CIO Labor Council Rick Gallo says he has seen a change in how people view themselves.
“I think that COVID, if it has done anything, it has heightened people’s awareness of what their value is as a worker,” said Gallo.
Currently, the number of workers who are in a union in the country is down by more than 10 percent. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the number of workers in a union fell by 241,000 last year. However, public support for unions is at 68 percent, according to a Gallup poll. That is the highest level it has been at in nearly six decades.
“We are seeing more and more unionization efforts around the country and here in Wisconsin, where we have had the Starbucks Coffee and the Colectivo organizing. Amazon is another big one that is starting to organize. So we think unions are on a comeback trail,” said Gallo.