Savage has given city-owned liquor store employees a temporary $2 hourly raise this week, which some city officials said might persuade them to continue working during the pandemic.
The Savage City Council authorized the raise effective retroactively from March 15 through April 30 with a 4-1 vote Monday.
A preliminary report shows liquor sales were up 240% in Savage the week of March 15 compared to last year after locals made a rush on liquor stores and prepared to hunker down.
The city’s two stores, Marketplace Liquor and Savage Wine and Spirits, began closing early last month due to staffing shortages, according to City Administrator Brad Larson. Five of the store’s 16 employees have gone off the schedule recently.
“The City wants employees to take advantage of these leave options, and they have,” a city memo stated. “However, the Liquor operations are not structured to deal with a lot of absences at once.”
Larson said the city has received a couple of doctor’s notes from employees who want to stay home because of underlying health conditions.
Other employees are taking advantage of new paid leave opportunities granted through the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which grants employees time off under various circumstances, such as needing to care for a loved one.
City officials said it’s unclear if local governments will be reimbursed for the new mandate.
If staffing shortages continue, the next step will be moving to close Marketplace Liquors and move the remaining staff members to the other store, which is more profitable, Larson said.
The raise will hopefully entice current employees to “rearrange things to continue to come into work,” Larson said, while the city continues advertising to hire new employees.
Councilmember Bob Coughlen said the solution doesn’t align with the problem before casting a vote against the raise.
“If I’m afraid to come into work, an extra $20 isn’t going to motivate me,” he said.
Coughlen also wondered why raises weren’t being considered for other city employees, such as police and fire.
Larson said he hopes the raise will help restore operations to normal, but the stores won’t know the exact outcome until they try it. He added the city’s following the lead of other cities and businesses.
Mayor Janet Williams suggested assigning city employees from other departments to work at the liquor stores to cover shortages, which Larson said he’d consider as a last resort.
“If we make the decision we want to be in the liquor business, then we should have staff that’s going to do it,” Williams said.