MADISON — The Milwaukee Brewers expect to return to full crowd capacity at American Family Field by week’s end, a move that will mean thousands of jobs returning to the Milwaukee region’s economy.
But will the current worker shortage crisis — driven in part by Gov. Tony Evers’ failure to end generous federal unemployment payments — make it difficult for the Major League Baseball franchise and their partners to fill those jobs?
Rick Schlesinger, Brewers president-Business Operations, is sending a letter to Evers and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett announcing that the stadium will be reopening to full capacity as of Friday, just in time for a weekend series with the Colorado Rockies.
Full capacity after a year of pandemic-related restrictions means more than 3,000 jobs supporting the ballpark for the remainder of the 2021 campaign. Only a fraction of those jobs were active during the 2020 season.
Of the positions, about 1,300 are direct Brewers employees. Many of them are seasonal workers who help the team operate the ballpark, while others are permanent staff who work for the organization year round.
The Brewers appear to be more fortunate so far than so many other employers facing the severe worker shortage, including some MLB ballpark vendors.
Tyler Barnes, the team’s senior vice president of Communications and Affiliate Operations, says many of the positions are filled by people who have been employed by the team for a number of years.
“After the long time off, we were encouraged that a very high percentage of our existing employees returned at the first opportunity made available,” he said.
But the team and its partners “are always looking for persons who are interested in filling roles to host fans at American Family Field.”
Looking for employees has been an around-the-clock effort for a lot of businesses these days.
The problem has been exacerbated by Evers’ refusal to end the $300 federal weekly unemployment bonus payment. With the $370 top weekly state unemployment benefit, many claimants are taking in $670 a week in jobless relief — or about $17 an hour.
Employers, most paying well above minimum wage for entry-level jobs, are finding it nearly impossible to compete with the enhanced unemployment benefits.
So it goes for Doreen Renken, owner of Riverside Cleaning, a home cleaning service in Merrill.
“We have been desperately trying to find employees (along with many other companies). I would set up interviews with people and then they do not show up. Now we just had an employee text us that they quit, we have another one that gave two weeks notice who didn’t come in yesterday and we can not get ahold of them today to find out if they are coming in today or not,” she recently wrote in an email to customers. “So, because of this we are now even more short staffed than we were before. As a company we have now had to make some difficult decisions, and will be cancelling all window & carpet cleaning jobs until we can find proper staffing, at this point I have no clue as to how long this may take.”
Same problem in Milwaukee, where even the government is having a hard time filling positions.
Milwaukee County Parks are struggling to find lifeguards. If they don’t fill the positions, some pools and beaches won’t open for another summer.
“We have four head lifeguards and that means we can only open four facilities,” Jim Tarantino, director of recreation and business services with Milwaukee County Parks, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
And the Milwaukee County Transit System announced it will not be offering special shuttle service to Milwaukee’s iconic Summerfest because of the worker shortage.
From beachside resorts to the ballpark, the Evers administration’s failure to listen to employers is another strike against Wisconsin’s recovering economy.