ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10)- Labor shortages continue to plague national and local job markets. Several labor unions joined Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and banded together in hopes of strengthening workers’ rights in the wake of the pandemic by pushing for the PRO Act, The Protecting the Right to Organize Act. 

Many businesses across the Capital Region are struggling to fully staff—everywhere from the service industry to non-profit organizations. Some point to enhanced unemployment as the most significant issue keeping workers at home. 

Mark Emanation, Director of the Capital District Area Labor Federation, said there is no doubt that small businesses are experiencing staffing shortages. 

“I have many friends who own restaurants and taverns, and they’re hurting,” Emanation said. 

But from his perspective, enhanced unemployment isn’t the largest contributing factor: It’s only one of many reasons behind the issue.

“A lot of people are not collecting employment. But they left a lot of industries over the course of this year, or they’re still not back in the workforce because they are taking care of kids at home,” Emanation said. 

Emanation pointed to the Capital Region’s current unemployment rate to bolster his reasoning.

According to the New York State Department of Labor, the Capital Region’s May unemployment rate is at 4.3%. The pre-pandemic rate is 3.4% in September of 2019.  

The overall New York state unemployment rate for May 2021 is substantially higher than the Capital Region’s standing at 6.9%.

So, where are the workers going in the Capital Region? Emanation said many were hired by large companies that have set up shop locally, like Amazon and Regeneron. He stated that others still need to stay home to take care of children or the elderly. 

“Our childcare responsibilities for our kids, the fact that we often are the caregivers for our parents. It makes working really challenging,” Mayor Kathy Sheehan said. 

Sheehan added that many daycares aren’t reopening on a local level, and Summer is poor timing for parents with children out of school. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand echoed this sentiment during the press conference held at the Albany Labor Temple. 

 “Kids still aren’t in school, and a lot of camps are closed. So, again a lot of working parents cannot go back to work yet because they don’t have adequate support to get back to work,” Gillibrand. 

Gillibrand stated that the P-R-O Act, or the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, hopes to help by strengthening workers’ rights overall. 

“As we focus on rebuilding and recovering, we can’t lose sight of the fact that it’s working people who are the true engine of our economy and our communities.”

The goal of the new legislation is to build back a better workforce with unions in the wake of the pandemic. It would also push for higher wages and benefits for workers in the state by focusing on inequality that has been further exacerbated this past year. 

“As we focus on rebuilding and recovering, we can’t lose sight of the fact that working people are the engines of our economy. The pandemic has really exposed to all of us the divide between working families and the wealthiest individuals in our country,” Gillibrand said. “Nearly 500 people became billionaires last year during a pandemic, during an economic collapse.”

News10 asked Senator Gillibrand what her advice is for businesses facing labor shortages. She said the answer is complex. However, the first thing employers should assess is if their pay and benefits are adequate.