Thursday, July 30, 2015

J's Deli in Woonsocket, RI: A Work Ethic and Welfare Problem?

File:Woonsocket RI City Hall.JPG
Woonsocket, RI City Hall

Following  my review of WaPo's Pulitzer Prize Winning reports on Woonsocket, RI and its cycle of welfare dependency, the Ocean State Current then the Providence Journal printed my analysis on how welfarism would engulf an entire city, creating more takers than makers.

My ProJo editorial elicited a number of responses, including the following:

Great article! In a similar note, I understand that students in Woonsocket are eligible for free breakfast, lunch AND dinner. And in nearby Central Falls, parents/guardians join the students for dinner. Talk about learned helplessness!

And also:

Mr. Schaper - congratulations on such a well-written piece on the Welfare City of Woonsocket.  Those of us that are natives of RI, have long been aware of the conditions that you've so aptly described.  My wife and I were both born in Cumberland, RI. . . .  When each of them [our children] reached high school age, we sent them to Mt St Charles Academy in Woonsocket because it was run by the Christian Brothers and had a great college prep program.
In retrospect, it was the only feature of that city that I felt was worthy of compliment.  The rest of the City defied logical explanation...and, as you know, it has steadily declined from there. You also seem to understand that its gotten that way because of the pervasive corruption of State and municipal governments in RI. 
Another post in the ProJo editoral mentioned the sudden closure of J's Deli in Woonsocket, and I decided to investigate further

WPRI reported:

WOONSOCKET, R.I. (WPRI) — The owner of J’s Deli has closed his location in Woonsocket because he says he can’t find enough quality workers to keep it running properly.

James Hallal has been in the sandwich business for years, and has served a steady stream of customers at all three of his deli locations.

J's Deli closed sign (Woonsocket Patch)

He said it breaks his heart that he had to close up shop in Woonsocket. A sign on the door says he’s been  unsuccessful at finding “a full team of motivated & friendly staff” to run the deli.

“You have to be an invested person when you come in, you have to be motivated,” he said Wednesday. “It’s been the last three years that I’ve found this extremely difficult.”

Could it be that the rampant welfare culture in the city has made it difficult to find good workers? I contacted the Smithfield shop for the next week to seek comments from Mr. Hallal. Finally, I got in touch with one of the general managers at the Smithfield deli, Erick Lynch, who spoke on behalf of James Hallal, the owner of the deli shops:

"He [Hallal] doesn't want to be an employment advocate. He just wants to run a good shop and serve his customers."

Lynch pointed out, just as the closed sign had indicated, that they could not hire enough good working people to keep the shopping running well. "We're not like a Subway. We are real deli and we want to offer the best service. If someone called in sick, it really through us off."

Lynch also informed me that they were not just hiring from people in Woonsocket, but from other neighboring towns, and even out of state: "I'm from New Hampshire, but I live in Cumberland now", Erick told me.

There is good news in this Woonsocket tale.

"We have already hired eleven new people, and we are training them already. We plan on opening up again on September first."

I asked Lynch why the local press had made an issue out of the Woonsocket deli's closure in the first place, since to him and his boss it had nothing directly to do with the high unemployment or welfarism in the city. He directed me to the Woonsocket, RI Patch, which had first reported the story.

The preliminary remarks in the Patch column indicate why the story took off as a commentary or in connection with the unemployment problems in Rhode Island:

In Woonsocket, a city that has been grappling with an unemployment problem for years, you’d think that a local company with pay that starts above the minimum wage would have no problem finding eager workers.

At first glance, one gets the impression that Hallal is a hard heart because he closed the shop down. Anyone working in retail or customer service can attest that when one employee does not show up, it can throw the whole day off.

Not the case at all, even if one reads further into the Patch post:

The inability to secure a decent crew of workers has been a head-scratcher for Hallal. J’s Deli isn’t a bad place to work, he said. The business has been named best deli/sandwich shop in Blackstone Valley by the readers of Rhode Island Monthly Magazine in their annual contest for several years in a row, including the just announced 2015 awards.

“It’s a wonderful place to work,” Hallal said. “It’s not what you’re thinking: $8 or $9 an hour place. We’re well above that. Well above.

Some of the comments below included statements from former employees who enjoyed working at J's Deli in the past. Local news, whether print or television, have reported on employers who struggle to find good workers. Sometimes, the ready application for unemployment insurance has ensured that more people stay out of work.

In the case of J's Deli, the bottom line came down to not having enough employees at one time, which had forced Hallal to stretch his staff thin. Even though the Woonsocket was the least profitable deli of the three, business was still doing very well, but the staffing was not adequate to keep up with the demand.

Final Reflection

 Can one really argue that the welfarism in one city forced a business to close temporarily? Bearing in mind that Hallal was hiring people from all over the state, the cycle of dependence in the city cannot justify this business move. Arguments may contend that he was a bad employee, or that the pay was not enough. Yet in a city with such high unemployment, plus his interest in hiring the best, that argument does not resound.

Other critics could put forward that Hallal was not offering enough pay, yet already his shop has gotten not one hundred but four hundred applicants. There are worker out there willing to work, but that a work ethic is essential for any business to thrive.

In a way, local news sources were looking for a story that probably wasn't there to begin with. A better question would be: why does the media have a hard time understanding that businesses must provide good service with "invested, motivated" people?

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