Maine Governor Paul LePage has a plan to alleviate a summer worker shortage threatening the state’s tourism industry: early release of inmates to fill seasonal positions.
LePage has already granted conditional commutations for 17 low-risk inmates, and he is meeting with the Department of Corrections to identify more inmates for early release.
“We have jobs, and just don’t have enough people,” LePage said to WCSH-TV Tuesday.
Peter Steele, a spokesman for the governor, said this is part of an “ongoing process” to commute men and women and provide “much-needed workers in all sectors of Maine business, including tourism.”
Businesses reliant on seasonal help have reported a worker shortage this year, and many are advertising “help wanted” signs.
The OOB House of Pizza in Old Orchard Beach has had to close three days a week, due to a lack of skilled workers.
“It’s extremely frustrating,” said co-owner Mikhele Kuntz. She said there is a smaller pool of foreign workers on visas this year.
Kim Verreault, Executive Director of the OOB Chamber of Commerce, said the state is experiencing a low unemployment rate this year, around three percent. That means fewer people are applying for part-time, or seasonal work this summer.
“I think it’s time for us to think outside the box,” said Verreault.
Kuntz said she would be willing to consider a candidate who had just been released from prison.
“I actually do employ someone who has spent some time in jail,” she said. “He’s my grill cook. He’s amazing. I don’t hold people’s past against them.”
But another business owner in the beach community, Mike Agam, has some reservations.
“There’s a reason why they’re in jail,” said Agam, who is looking to hire at least eight more people to work at his Beach Fantasy apparel shop downtown. “Let’s hire people, who are good people, from outside [jail] first.”