Worker shortages still impacting range of businesses in Philadelphia

Before the holidays, SEPTA averaged 370 absences out of its 2,600 bus operators. That number jumped to 490 by early January.
PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- It may be a new year but the City of Philadelphia is still battling a chronic worker shortage affecting every business from restaurants to transportation to sanitation.

"Restaurants are experiencing these last two weeks some of the worst two weeks they've had since COVID started," said Yehuda Sichel, chef and owner of Huda in Center City. "Even worse than last January."

Sichel said the issue is twofold: the lack of workers reporting to their offices downtown and employees calling out sick from COVID-19.

"We just don't have workers coming in," said Sichel. "The streets are pretty empty during the day."

To help address the issue, the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association (PRLA) handed out free take-home COVID tests to hospitality workers.

"All around Christmas and all around (the) New Year, many restaurants were closing down just because they didn't have enough staff to open their restaurants and that has to do with them being sick with COVID," said Ben Fileccia, director of operations and strategy for PRLA. "To get them back to work and back to work healthy, we want to make sure they're tested and testing negative."

Hostess Devon Burke arrived Monday to get a free take-home test and said she's grateful.

"It's just really scary going through the world and work and seeing my coworkers and seeing my roommates not knowing if I have COVID or not," said Burke.

Worker shortages due to COVID are impacting SEPTA, a company also struggling to find enough employees.

Before the holidays, SEPTA averaged 370 absences out of its 2,600 bus operators. That number jumped to 490 by early January.

Last week, an average of 600 bus operators were absent each day.

"What we're having to do is evaluate day-by-day, sometimes shift-by-shift, depending on our availability. So we haven't scaled back scheduled service, but what we're having to do is making on-the-fly adjustments," said SEPTA spokesperson Andrew Busch.

The Philadelphia Streets Department announced it's experiencing trash and recycling collection delays due to COVID infections.

The School District of Philadelphia is also temporarily shifting additional schools to virtual learning due to the omicron surge.
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