A cool $500 signing bonus.

That’s what you can get if you’re willing to work in the kitchen at Hervé Wine Bar in downtown Santa Fe.

Allied Universal is offering as much as a $900 hiring bonus for people who will work as security staff at Santa Fe Public Schools.

Bosque Brewing is offering free daily growlers now for its employees. The company recently added medical, dental and vision benefits — and now is discussing cash hiring bonuses.

“Yes, there is a worker shortage. It is real,” said Silas Peterson, owner of The Hire Firm, a Santa Fe job placement company, typically for office jobs. “From our perspective, office workers, front desk, office managers, really it’s front-line employees. These people are very hard to hire for right now.”

Though the nation remains locked in COVID-19 mode, businesses — and employees — are finding the post-pandemic world looks far different from the one that existed in March 2020. For some, jobs remain scarce. For others, it’s the workers who are at a premium.

State Department of Workforce Solutions statistics show that among most trades in Santa Fe, the number of people collecting unemployment benefits in Santa Fe County outnumbers the job openings found online by the the department. Accommodations and food services had the most unemployment insurance claimants in March at 1,342, yet restaurants had excruciating challenges finding people for the 196 job openings the agencies identified in Santa Fe.

Health care and social assistance have the opposite problem, with 2,399 job openings found by Workforce Solutions in March but only 464 unemployed workers in those fields on the unemployment rolls in March.

“I would say it is very unique in Santa Fe to find nurses,” said Kat Seisman, a human resources manager at San Antonio, Texas-based Shadow Mountain Recovery Center, which has New Mexico locations in Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Taos and Rio Rancho. “I can’t find nurses to save my life in Santa Fe. In Texas, I can find nurses with no problem.”

The common thought — challenged in some circles — is many people make more money through unemployment benefits than at jobs and thus have less incentive to go back to work. Other common reasons are concerns over the lingering coronavirus pandemic, especially bringing the virus home. Other possibilities: Some have found other jobs, are staying home with kids or moving away.

Ray Madrid was working temporary gigs in accounting through The Hire Firm until the pandemic hit last March. Since then, he worked briefly in September and October but not since then.

“The reason I stopped taking assignments is it’s just plain too dangerous to be in the workforce and risk getting my family dead,” Madrid said. “I am just heeding scientific fact that the coronavirus is deadly, especially more so for the elderly and people who are high risk. My brother has MS [multiple sclerosis] and my mother and father are in their 80s. We live in the same household. Under $15 is not worth putting them in the grave.”

Minerva Paez reopened her Casa Chimayo at the end of March with just a husband-and-wife team running the kitchen and dining room.

“We have not really found anyone,” Paez said. “Typically, I have two or three people back of house [kitchen] and a minimum of two or three or four front of house [dining room]. Some people are afraid of COVID. Some people have adapted their schedules with kids at home. Most of my people have found other jobs or moved away.”

Since indoor dining in New Mexico was restored in February, operators say hiring bonuses — and higher salaries — are in play in restaurant-centric Santa Fe. Even medical benefits have entered the picture.

“We are doing a $500 hiring bonus right now for anybody on the culinary team in Santa Fe,” said Wayne Moore, director of bistro operations at Lescombes Family Vineyards, which owns Hervé Wine Bar and other restaurants in Albuquerque and Las Cruces. “We may have to extend that [to servers].”

Before the pandemic, Hervé was open seven days a week. Now it’s closed Monday and Tuesday.

“We’re probably leaving 25 percent of our revenue on the table because we don’t have enough staff to be open seven days,” Moore said. “Saturday we could only serve nosh boards because we had no cooks. Restaurants that fired people are now hiring them back at a higher wage.”

Before the pandemic, Hervé paid cooks $13 to $14 an hour, and now that is $18 to $20 per hour. Even with the $500 bonus, Moore said he has only been able to hire two cooks — and one has already left.

“I have two cooks at Hervé,” Moore said. “I probably need seven in Santa Fe. I have eight cooks in Las Cruces. We should have 16.”

Hervé and the other Lescombes properties this month added paid time off for all employees at all locations.

Moore recalled opening an Applebee’s Grill + Bar in Alamogordo 18 years ago with 500 job applications. He plans to open a Lescombes restaurant in June in Alamogordo.

“Now we can’t even get people to come in and apply,” he said. “I’ve never seen it as it is now. There is no incentive for people to go back to work right now. That’s the bottom line. I feel a $100 signing bonus wouldn’t grab anybody’s attention. The $500 probably is still not adding up to the money the government is handing out right now.”

But some observers counter about the role unemployment benefits are playing, noting the availability of work throughout the economy is allowing some to be more choosy.

“The expanded benefit program didn’t have as big of an effect on employment as many thought it would,” said Reilly S. White, associate professor of finance at the University of New Mexico. “There’s also the tendency of increasing wages for other jobs across the economy: Given the choice between working as a dishwasher at $12 per hour or working at Target for $15 per hour, many workers will choose the latter.

“There’s usually a ‘fair price’ for all jobs,” White continued, “and it’s likely restaurants will have to offer higher wages to compete with other service-sector jobs, even if this gets passed on to the consumer.”

Bernalillo-based Bosque Brewing opened in September at the Santa Fe Railyard, but food service isn’t starting for a month or so. During the pandemic, Bosque started offering employees one free 32-ounce growler for each shift worked and a free 64-ounce growler once a month.

“The biggest thing we have done is we have increased wages and offered dental and vision for anyone and medical for employees that qualify,” said Jotham Michnovicz, chief development officer at Bosque Brewing.

Bosque Brewing raised the starting wages for cooks from $13-$16 per hour to $17-$21.

“We just have very little interest in back of house,” Michnovicz said. “Front of house is fine. We only had two applicants for back of house in Santa Fe. We don’t have any of those [hiring bonuses] right now but we [had a meeting Tuesday] about hiring bonuses.”

Allied Universal, which provides nationwide security services, has been offering $900 hiring bonuses in Santa Fe and $750 in Albuquerque since March 16 to people with state-issued security guard licenses to fill more than 100 jobs across the state, including at Santa Fe Public Schools. The company is also willing to pay the licensing fees for new guards who still need guard licenses.

“New Mexico, Arizona and Oklahoma are the slowest states [in the Western states] to issue licenses,” said Brenda Studley, vice president of recruiting in Western states for Allied Universal. “It is taking many weeks to get licenses in New Mexico.”

January and February saw increases nationwide in people applying for security job positions, but significant declines took hold in March and April, triggering the $900 bonuses in Santa Fe, Studley said.

“It’s just what guards who are licensed are worth to us,” Studley said about the signing bonus.

Shadow Mountain Recovery Center, which offers patient detox and residential treatment for substance and alcohol abuse, was down to a single nurse Tuesday. Normal is four, Seisman said.

Shadow Mountain’s job listing says “pay is very generous,” Seisman said, with a starting salary for registered nurses during COVID-19 increasing from $33 to $40 per hour and for licensed practical nurses from $26 to $33 per hour.

“Right now I wish we were offering a hiring bonus,” she said.

(18) comments

Russell Scanlon

At the risk of joining the armchair experts with an agenda (socialism! Free stuff!) isn’t it possible that our nation is going through a transitional period after a once in a lifetime pandemic? Good lord people—put away your FOX news blather talking points and read some real news. Talk to people. Quit recycling divisive mental garbage. It’s always people at the bottom who are blamed for the sins at the top.

Richard Reinders

Get ready for inflation through supply and demand , because we can't get truck drivers there will be a shortage of everything, look at construction materials they have gone up 145% so will everything else, so those choosing unemployment instead of employment will have to spend twice as much as they make on unemployment to live or be completely replaced by the influx from Mexico, someone has to do the work.

Andy Tanner

I would like all of you who are complaining about the government helping workers during a pandemic to please go get a minimum wage job for some perspective

Kelly Wilson

Free money from the government will kill our small businesses!

It needs to stop, there is PLENTY of work Everywhere!!!

Richard Reinders

Go to the border 175,000 people a month are flowing in, I am sure you can find someone qualified , then when the deadbeats want a job they will all be gone. You snooze you lose.

Jim Klukkert

Plenty of work, but guarantees of safety, a future and health care? US business is facing a general strike because of the lack of guarantees of safety, a future and health care.

Fair is fair. Employers who offer the above will not lack from applications for employment.

bob chilton

It is not necessary for one collecting unemployment to pursue new job opportunities.

The law does not require that those who are unemployed look for work. The good news is that a lot of employees will be looking for employment in October. In the meantime the quality of service with all hourly employees will suffer in a substantial way.

As they say, in Santa Fe, good help is hard to find . . . and so is bad help.

Stefanie Beninato

Actually the state started to require a showing of looking for work-- I think it began this week or will next week. Maybe all those complaining about a labor shortage will soon have more workers in the pool.

Lee DiFiore

Don't let the left and mainstream media fool you. This inability to find people who want to work is almost exclusively about the socialists "free stuff for everybody" programs. Afraid to go back to work because of covid? Get the vaccine. Isn't that what we've been told by all the dems?

John Cook

Don'tcha just hate them socialists? All the time tryin' to help people who ain't even rich. Outrageous.

Lee DiFiore

In answer to your first question, YES.

Jim Klukkert

And don't you hate the goals of socialists Lee? The end of child labor, the 40 hour week, Social[ist] Security, Medicare, Public Education?

C'mon Lee, pour it on like a Buddhist monk in Saigon! Burn, Baby, Burn!

Angel Ortiz

No worries Lee. According to the far right, the virus is a hoax. One day we'll wake up and it will gone and everyone will be working again.

Jim Klukkert

Lee DiFiore- Employers will find that workers rush to positions when they are offered guarantees of safety, a future, health care and other compensation worthy of modern citizens.

US business is facing a general strike demanding guarantees of safety, a future, health care and the benefits suitable for a 21st century workforce. Fair is fair. Employers who offer the above will not lack from applications for employment.

Solidarity with Labor!

Meri Hunt

Fun fact: The same exact thing happened in Medieval Europe after the Black Death (although on a much larger scale of course.) 🙃

Christina Gill

I just received notice that an former employee who was offered a return to work this past June will be allowed to continue to collect the expanded and enhanced unemployement benefits as I "failed to prove I had made a legitimate offer." I personally spoke to the employee last summer, she failed to call the supervisor claiming they did not answer their phone, she never left a message, I asked her to show up, she did not, all mail was returned addressee unknown, she came to the hotel in February to personally pick up her W2, I did not have an opening at that time. I have now and I told DOL that I did but that the former employee continued the cat and mouse game and had in fact move out of the are. The government gave us PPP so that we could hire back employees but the also provided enhanced and extended unemployment benefits so that job seekers could stay out of the work force. The DOL must make those receiving benefits prove the cannot find work, and stop penalizing employers with increased Unemployment taxes for employees who refuse work.

John Tallent

I agree, these people should prove they are looking for work before they can get the assistance!

Richard Reinders

Not in Biden's world, he refuses to look at the facts, every employer needs help , no one on unemployment wants to give it up and there is no crisis at the border. If we are going to allow illegal immigration then set up employment agencies at the border and take that job away from the cartels and lets start filling jobs.

Welcome to the discussion.

Thank you for joining the conversation on Santafenewmexican.com. Please familiarize yourself with the community guidelines. Avoid personal attacks: Lively, vigorous conversation is welcomed and encouraged, insults, name-calling and other personal attacks are not. No commercial peddling: Promotions of commercial goods and services are inappropriate to the purposes of this forum and can be removed. Respect copyrights: Post citations to sources appropriate to support your arguments, but refrain from posting entire copyrighted pieces. Be yourself: Accounts suspected of using fake identities can be removed from the forum.