Labor Day has traditionally been set aside each year to honor and recognize workers and their contributions to the United States.

For the last two years, Labor Day has taken on even more significance as the coronavirus pandemic has tested the stamina and fortitude of many workers.

The sacrifices made by those who have risked health and safety to serve the public are being praised by employers who continue to struggle with workforce shortages.

Calhoun Oil Company Inc. President Boyd McLeod III thanked the company’s employees and “nurses, doctors, truck drivers, teachers, law enforcement and all employees that have helped keep our communities moving forward.”

The company has tried to show its appreciation to its workers in a number of ways over the past year, McLeod said. It has raised its starting wages and also provided proactive raises for current employees.

“We have used different tools to thank employees,” McLeod said. “Last Christmas, we had Santa Claus deliver gift bags to all our managers instead of having a Christmas function.”

“Also, during the slowdown last year, we provided hours and pay equal to the employees’ normal pay,” McLeod said. “We also offered incentives to employees to take the vaccine when it became available, without making it mandatory, while it was under an emergency authorization.”

Calhoun Oil Company oversees convenience stores in Orangeburg, Calhoun and Sumter counties. The company also operates two Bojangles restaurants – one in Orangeburg and another in Santee.

Like other Bojangles, McLeod closed his two stores for a day to allow employees to rest. He said there are also plans to provide other employee recognition events in the future.

But the company is still facing workforce challenges.

McLeod said the labor shortage has gotten worse since the spring.

“We actually saw some rebounding for the summer,” he said. “This mostly came from younger employees that were out of various schools and colleges. When school started a few weeks ago, we lost those employees.”

He said, “The loss of employees has left the management strained and the older managers are getting out of the workforce quicker than normal.

“We are down now approximately 30 to 35 employees. This includes the need for a unit director for Bojangles and assistant manager positions.” The business is also looking to fill multiple cashier positions.

Orangeburg’s Fairey Chevrolet Cadillac was listed as an essential business during the pandemic, meaning it never closed.

“About 90% of our staff stayed on the entire time and didn’t miss a day,” dealer operator Joseph Fairey IV said.

Fairey said he appreciates all of the business’s workers.

“We didn’t change hours, but it required a lot of flexibility and patience. A year ago, we did not know what masks did. We didn’t know if the world was ending at a certain point,” he said.

Former dealer operator Joseph Fairey III said employees were “working harder than ever” to provide sales and service.

“Our employees are us, essentially,” Fairey III said.

Orangeburg County Chamber of Commerce President James McQuilla said the COVID pandemic has perhaps created the largest disruption in the American lifestyle since at least the pandemic of 1918.

He said the pandemic has been a real threat to health and well-being, but said the courageous spirit of the Orangeburg worker shone through.

Many employees “refused to give in or give up and found ways to be productive in the jobs that were available,” he said. “For that, they should be applauded, commended and rewarded.”

Orangeburg County YMCA Executive Director Demetrius Hardy said it has been difficult for the Y during the pandemic.

Earlier this summer, the YMCA experienced a shortage in lifeguards, requiring the business to change hours and days of operation.

Staffing has improved, but many current school-age staff members are having to adjust their schedules due to classes.

“When it comes to availability, we know the Y is only a part of our employees’ lives,” Hardy said. “The majority of our school-aged staff are also involved in extracurricular activities, so there are opportunities for an unemployed adult or an underemployed person looking to supplement full-time income with a few part-time shifts per week at the Y.”

Hardy appreciates those who continued to work during the pandemic.

“To those who worked during the height of the pandemic, I offer two words: THANK YOU!” Hardy said. “There is not enough time in the day to express how thankful the leadership team at our Y is for the time, effort and sacrifices our staff made in service to our members, guests and program participants.”

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“They returned to work after mandatory closures ended to increased safety protocols like social distancing, temperature checks and health screens and often faced extra scrutiny from the people we serve who were all trying to navigate a new normal,” Hardy continued. “Some of those sacrifices to ensure operations continue are still ongoing.”

Hardy said an example of the sacrifices that continue to be made include staff adjusting to work “mini shifts.”

“They come in and open the building at 5 a.m. work until 7 or 8 a.m., leave for class and then come back after class or work weekends for more traditional shifts,” he said. “Remote working and virtual/hybrid learning changed the way we see the workday in 2020 and the most successful members of our staff continue to adapt and adjust.”

“As a non-profit, the Y requires a lot from our staff and encourages them to seek fulfillment in their work beyond the pay they receive,” Hardy continued. “By and large, most of our team does that and we owe them a huge debt of gratitude.”

The Orangeburg County Disabilities and Special Needs Board has continued to face workforce shortages.

“We are still having difficulty filling vacant positions and are urgently in need of qualified and dedicated candidates for employment,” OCDSNB Executive Director Vonda Steward said.

The agency has nine full-time and 26 part-time positions available.

Steward called the staff members who have worked during the pandemic “’heroes.”

“We are extremely fortunate and grateful to each and every employee who has diligently worked for OCDSNB throughout the pandemic,” Steward said. “We recognize and applaud their loyalty and dedication to persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities.”

“We could not have made it without you,” she told employees. “Saying thank you seems not to be enough. We do sincerely hope that you know how much we really appreciate you!”

Kristin Bobenage, human resources director for Planet Fitness, gave a shout-out to those Orangeburg employees who worked throughout the pandemic.

They included Club Manager Joyce Johnson, Assistant Manager Hunter Hutto, Certified Fitness Trainer Saxton Peele and front desk worker Kemesha Gillard.

“Without them, our business would not have survived,” Johnson said. “They were appreciated more than they could imagine.”

“Employee loyalty is our number one predictor and indicator of member loyalty,” Johnson said. “A lot of our members came to the gym because of our friendly front desk staff.”

Johnson also thanked those employees who have moved on to other opportunities for their work at Planet Fitness.

“During the pandemic, those who stayed with us really stood out and stepped up to the plate,” Planet Fitness Regional Manager Deborah Fletcher said. “They are like family, we are fortunate to have them on our team. They were crucial to our success during that time and we couldn’t have done it without them!”

The gym’s employment situation is better now than it was earlier this year.

Finding employees had been difficult as applicants often did not respond when contacted for further information. In some cases, they did not show up for interviews. The applicant pool has been much less than normal.

The business has offered employee referral bonuses, created hiring brochures and is in the process of designing signs to attract applicants.

The Orangeburg office still needs two more dayshift staff members and an additional fitness trainer.

“We participated in the recent SCWORKS job fair, which was very encouraging,” Bobenage said. “It was a great turnout, and we definitely received a spike in applicants due to the event. We are very optimistic that we can get our last few positions filled very soon.”

Workforce challenges continue despite S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster’s decision to end the state’s receipt of extra federal coronavirus unemployment benefits at the end June.

McMaster said workforce shortages were induced by the benefits creating a disincentive for people to work.

The latest unemployment rates had Bamberg County leading the state with a jobless rate of 8.9% in July. This was up from 8.8% in June.

Orangeburg County had an unemployment rate of 7.9% in July. That’s a decline from 8.1% in June. Orangeburg County’s unemployment rate was the third-highest in the state.

Calhoun County’s rate was 4.8% in July. That’s down from 5% in June. It had the state’s 17th-highest unemployment rate, tied with Colleton County.

Through the end of August, Orangeburg County had about 2,900 job openings, according to South Carolina Works Online Services.

Calhoun County had 140 job openings and Bamberg County had about 308 job openings, according to the SCWOS website.

McQuilla said, “We simply don’t have enough people who want to work.

“I am personally concerned about what I believe is a deteriorating work ethic and ‘will to work’ in our society.”

McQuilla described labor as “the lifeblood of American ingenuity and innovation.”

“If we cease to revere a ‘hard day’s work’ or begin to value leisure above labor, then the result will be catastrophic for our economy and thus, our way of life,” McQuilla said. “We need to re-establish work as a life-long ambition.”

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