For many years, the big challenge besetting Chesapeake Bay watermen was the declining crab population. As the number of crabs dropped from 680 million in 1990 to 300 million in 2014, so did harvests. The crab count rebounded to 553 million last year. Now the problem isn’t a shortage of crabs, it’s a shortage of crab pickers.
Hampton-based Graham & Rollins, Inc., one of only six crab houses remaining in Virginia, expects a strong 2017 harvest, reports the Daily Press. CEO Johnny Graham needs to staff up with crab pickers. Decades ago, he had hundreds of employees, but they have all left or retired. This year he found only nine locals through online recruitment. Three showed up, one quit early, and only two have stuck it out.
Graham & Rollins is entitled through the H-2B visa program to hire 110 seasonal workers from Mexico. Paperwork is a hindrance. “I’d like to have all 110 here now,” Graham said. He’s expecting 25 soon but doesn’t know when the rest will arrive. Last year, he told the Daily Press, the company lost 37 days of the season because they could not bring in workers.
Bacon’s bottom line: I have two conflicting reactions regarding Graham’s labor dilemma.
First, with so many Americans unemployed or underemployed, why the heck can’t Graham find any workers? It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Hampton residents find unemployment more attractive than working a tedious eight-hour day. When social safety net benefits are as generous as they are, unemployment is a viable career option.
Second, if so few people are interested in the work, perhaps Graham is not paying enough! I expect that the handful of surviving crab houses in Virginia are experiencing the same labor shortages. If Graham pays more, his costs go up but he hires more workers and moves a greater volume of product. His competitors might even follow his lead.
The only winners in the current state of affairs are the crabs. Maybe that’s not entirely a bad thing.There are currently no comments highlighted.