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Employer tax credits could help solve the state’s hiring crisis because right now employers who are still struggling to recover from the pandemic are forced to pay people more than they can afford in order to fill open positions.

That was the message from Debra Kestenbaum, the chief people officer at Wedgewood Pharmacy in Swedesboro, who spoke during the recent New Jersey Business Coalition online town hall about the state’s hiring crisis.

Many businessowners who spoke at the May 11 town hall said the crisis was due in part to federal unemployment bonus payments that serve as a disincentive for people to go back to work and put pressure on employers to offer wages they cannot afford just to attract applicants.

Kestenbaum said Wedgewood Pharmacy is a significant employer in Swedesboro, employing 515 employees right now. While hiring has been a challenge throughout the pandemic, primarily due to health concerns and childcare needs, there had been a strong flow of candidates until a few months ago when the pipeline of available applicants slowed dramatically.

“A significant driver of our current challenge in filling positions is wages,” Kestenbaum said. “The demand and high wages for pharmacy technicians at pharmacies and other healthcare facilities, as well as the expansion and increased wages at warehouses and other manufacturing warehouses, has caused hourly wages to increase rapidly and dramatically.”

“This increase is making it even more difficult to find qualified people for warehouse, compounding and contact center roles and is putting strain on our budgets as we struggle to keep up with market compensation,” Kestenbaum said. “We would appreciate support in the form of tax credits or other incentives to help us provide secure jobs that include healthcare, paid time off and many other benefits to more people and to meet the needs of our customers who require life-saving medications.”

Additionally, support from regulating agencies to allow remote work to continue would also help employers, Kestenbaum said, referring to the New Jersey Board of Pharmacy’s temporary waiver that has allowed some pharmacy contact center staff to work from home during the pandemic.

Although 60% of Wedgewood’s workforce must be on site to compound and ship medication, the waiver granted at the start of the pandemic that allows contact center employees to work remotely has been very helpful in implementing protocols that kept onsite workers safe, Kestenbaum said.

The onsite wavier has also helped attract strong candidates for open contact center positions and to reduce turnover, Kestenbaum said.

“It would be extremely helpful if regulators like the New Jersey Board of Pharmacy indefinitely extended their allowances for remote work,” Kestenbaum said. “An extension beyond June – and even better, a permanent waiver – will reduce turnover and allow us to bring people back gradually as the pandemic continues to subside and to retain an engaged workforce in the future.”

More than 150 people, including 20 state and federal legislators or their staff, attended the virtual town hall on the hiring crisis.