BROOME COUNTY, NY – The county government is struggling to fill about 400 open positions.
County Executive Jason Garnar tells NewsChannel 34 that the problem actually predates the pandemic, although the post-COVID tight labor market has counteracted efforts to recruit and retain workers.
Garnar says the need is most acute in 3 departments: Willow Point Nursing Center, the Department of Social Services and the Broome County Jail.
The County Exec says his administration is taking a 3-pronged approach to the labor shortage.
It’s been negotiating raises in union contracts, typically around 3% annually.
The county has also given pay upgrades to around 150 specific positions in the past year, many in harder to fill jobs.
And it gave bonuses of $1,000 to existing full-time employees and $500 for part-timers to retain workers.
Jason Garnar says, “We are addressing it. We’re trying to do the best we can with the limited resources that we have to be able to offer better contracts, offer competitive salaries and try to recruit more people into these vacant positions.”
There are currently 117 openings at Willow Point, mostly for nurses and certified nursing assistants, 90 at D.S.S. and 40 corrections officer positions at the jail.
Garnar acknowledges that there’s fierce competition for the limited pool of nurses locally.
He says the nursing home cannot operate at its full capacity and still must hire expensive travel nurses which both add to its financial losses.
Garnar says the county offers great benefits, including healthcare, pension, sick and vacation time, numerous holidays, four-day work weeks in some cases, flexible scheduling and some opportunities to work from home.
Garnar says, “I think one of the things we need to do a better job of is really talking to people and selling ourselves and all of the benefits that we have. When you talk about why do people want to come and work, it’s not necessarily just the pay, we’ve been working to address the pay, but it’s also all the great benefits that people have.”
Garnar admits that the positions at D.S.S. and the jail can be very challenging and that the remaining workers are having to work harder due to understaffing which can lead to burnout.
And he says the county must compete with other levels of government that offer better pay like New York State and Broome-Tioga BOCES.
All at a time when the local unemployment rate is the lowest its been since 1990.