Chamber official: Employers could  trim work hours, reduce benefits

APPLYING: People stand in line or fill out applications at a job fair on April 14 in Tumon. The local minimum wage is set to increase on Sept. 1. Post file photo

Forty jobs from Guam's Red Lobster restaurant franchisee vanished this week when the local franchise holder made the difficult decision to close down the restaurant for good.

The franchisee stated in a public release that it tried to hold on through the pandemic, but ultimately came to the difficult decision of giving up. Guam has been a tough business environment marked by government-imposed lockdowns and tourism numbers that have remained dismal for more than a year now.

"The pandemic has posed unprecedented challenges for our group, most especially our restaurants that rely heavily on Guam's tourism and hospitality industry," Jeff Jones, president and chief operating officer of Triple J Enterprises Inc., said Monday in a written statement. "We have done our best to try and navigate through this uncharted territory but have exhausted all options and have made the incredibly difficult decision to close Red Lobster Guam permanently."

Red Lobster is not alone in its struggles. It was at least kind enough to share its decision with the community.

Sometimes, all we will see is a "closed" sign on the door of a business that never said goodbye to the community.

By the end of the budget year, in September, Guam's tourism industry's best-case scenario is that the island will see 130,000 tourists at the fiscal year's end. The not-so-great scenario is about half that. These numbers look grim considering Guam saw, just a year before the pandemic hit, 1.6 million tourist arrivals in 2019.

There could be more businesses that are teetering close to the cliff's edge, but we, the public, don't necessarily get a full public announcement of all of the businesses that have been and will be forced to close down.

We bring up this latest closure because we are likely going to see more businesses reach the point of full exhaustion. And that's because tourism will take some time – possibly a year or a few years, as officials have said – before bouncing back to pre-pandemic levels.

Without further federal pandemic aid to help financially sustain businesses and affected workers, our community could be in for more hardships.

Guam had a staggering 19.4% unemployment rate in December 2020 - that’s the highest rate the island has seen – according to the Guam Department of Labor.

In December 2020, 13,850 people did not have jobs on Guam, but they had a financial cushion from federally paid unemployment benefits. Guam does not have an unemployment benefits program it can sustain.

The federally funded program ends on Sept. 4.  

There are federal government-funded summer internships that are underway and boot camp job training opportunities that have been launched, but the sheer volume of the unemployed who will no longer get jobless benefits and who will try to get a job in an environment where jobs will still be scarce presents a real challenge for our community, our local government and our social service safety nets.

We have said just recently there haven't been a lot of discussions on this massive challenge ahead.

It's been weeks since we brought it up. We're still not hearing public conversations about the challenges and possible comprehensive solutions, not just patchwork ideas.

When will we see the problem confronted in community conversations that our senators, our governor and lieutenant governor, our mayors and other government and community officials will lead?

Time is ticking away.

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