Chris Wiken—2021 WRA Chair of the Board
I first joined the WRA state board in 1994 and took some time away from our family business from 2001-2010. When I returned to the business, I became involved once again with our great Association and came back to the state board of directors in 2011.
Several years ago, board Chair Chico Pope from the Buckhorn Supper Club in Milton, nominated me to serve on the Executive Committee. I was honored to accept that nomination and am excited to serve as your Chair this year.
The last year has been the most challenging year for our industry in history. While we all look to survive and recover and protect our businesses, we must engage our political leaders and legislators to help us.
My focus this year is going to be our restaurant recovery and how we can lobby our leaders on the local, state and federal levels to tell our story. We all have very engaging stories to tell, and they need to hear directly from us how the events of the last year have affected us and will continue to affect us for the foreseeable future.
As we start to see customers coming back to their favorite restaurants, the age-old struggle of having enough employees to serve customers is rearing its ugly head again. The problem never really went away; the factors leading to the worker shorter pre-pandemic are still there. Plus, new issues have arisen like employees wanting to continue to receive unemployment benefits instead of working and employees who were furloughed who found permanent employment in other industries. We understand that restaurant operators who survived a year-long pandemic crisis are now facing another crisis: the workforce shortage.
WRA is working diligently on many fronts to provide our restaurant members with the information, resources and assistance to help with workforce challenges.
A new taskforce has been assembled to develop and execute solid strategies to help support restaurant operators in their workforce recruitment and retention challenges. We look forward to sharing these new initiatives in the weeks to come. In addition, WRA has many initiatives currently in place to address workforce challenges.
WRA is taking every opportunity to talk about the restaurant industry’s workforce woes to the media, the general public and political leaders. It is more important than ever that they understand these challenges. Awareness is the first step to effecting positive change.
WRA continues to provide valuable education and training on key aspects of workforce recruitment and retention including advice directly from restaurant operators who have successfully implemented creative solutions to the workforce dilemma. This includes Restaurant Insights Summits webinars on many key workforce topics and videos highlighting best practices for workforce recruitment and retention.
Workforce Resources & Assistance
The Ask WRA Team is ready to answer questions from restaurant operators on pretty much any restaurant topic. From what to do if your employees refuse hours to continue to receive unemployment benefits to pandemic related requirements like the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. Our experienced team has answers to your questions.
The WRA and National Restaurant Association are working on many fronts to advocate at the state and federal level to address the worker shortage.
We are working hard to increase the number or worker and student visas available, to allow young people from other countries to travel here, earn money and learn our culture. We are advocating for immigration reform to improve our vetting system to allow people who wish to work in the US the ability to apply, be vetted and find gainful employment in jobs that US citizens do not want.
We are urging the Wisconsin legislature to rescind the Emergency Rule that waives work searches for those who are on unemployment insurance and the automatic “no work available” clause that allows employees to turn down work and remain on unemployment insurance. The WRA has joined many other leading business groups and are urging the Governor to end Wisconsin’s participation in the enhanced federal unemployment benefits. Other factors, such as lack of child care facilities and virtual learning, are keeping employees at home. Longer term solutions to help get part time workers back into the workforce are also being explored, but will take more time. In the meantime, we encourage you to contact your elected officials and tell them your stories – let them know what your worker situation is and that you need them to work with the WRA and other business groups to help get people back into the work force.
Contact Elected Officials on Workforce Challenges
More to Come
WRA is committed to providing useful workforce resources to help restaurants hire and recruit talent. Look for announcements about new resources on workforce best practices to help you become a preferred employer as well as industry employee recruitment efforts.
We Want to Hear from You
WRA can help restaurant operators with challenges that we don’t know about. Let us know what your biggest challenges are in recruiting and retaining employees who are a good fit for your business.
As Restaurant Revitalization Fund grants begin to be awarded, the question remains: how many restaurants will receive funds? With so many restaurants in need, the available funds will go fast.
The National Restaurant Association is planning on circulating a grassroots petition to all federal lawmakers - Congress and the Executive Branch - urging additional funds for the RRF to ensure it can provide real relief to all restaurants that need it.
Please add your name to the petition!