Hal Udell, an East End chef in the summer, focuses on his personal chef and catering business in the winter. Rafael Vargas, a supervisor at Prestige Lawn Care in Huntington Station, keeps busy with projects around the house that he can't get to in the summer. Credit: Tom Lambui

For Long Island’s seasonal workers, the hazy days of summer mean just one thing: bringing home the bacon.

Each year, between mid-March and Memorial Day, seasonal workers surface to work in weather-driven businesses, from landscaping and golf courses to restaurants and hotels in Long Island’s touristy communities.

Their money-making window ends with the arrival of the offseason, which, depending on the industry, starts a week or two after Labor Day or a few days before Thanksgiving. While some warm weather operations shed some workers, others temporarily shut down and lay off most of their summer help, if not everyone.

As a seasonal industry, landscaping illustrates the cyclical falloff in employees. From a peak of 14,065 workers in last year’s third quarter, the sector’s labor force plummeted 44% to 7,937 in the first quarter of this year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

While some workers are eligible to file for unemployment in the offseason,  it replaces only about one-third of the lost earnings, according to a 2020 study published by the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research.

Seasonal workers are generally eligible for unemployment benefits "if they’ve worked and been paid wages for work in at least two calendar quarters within the last 18 months,” according to Shital Patel, the New York State Department of Labor’s regional analyst and principal economist for Long Island. 

Workers who have their hours reduced in the offseason may be eligible to receive partial unemployment benefits, Patel said, if they work 30 hours or fewer per week and earn $504 or less. And the state’s Shared Work Program allows businesses to manage seasonal adjustments and economic downturns while sparing their workers from full unemployment. The program allows employers to keep their trained employees and avoid layoffs by allowing their staff to receive partial unemployment while working reduced hours. 

For workers who are unsure whether they qualify for benefits, Patel said the labor department encourages them to file a claim if they have worked in New York State within the last 18 months.

Unemployment insurance — as well as a year-round working spouse or partner’s wages — allows some seasonal workers to use their job hiatus to pursue a range of activities, from home repairs to traveling. Others, without such financial cushions, spend the winter months hustling for additional income, including shoveling snow.

Whether they toil in the summer’s heat or a winter storm, "seasonal workers are part of the critical infrastructure of any community but most especially on Long Island,” said Joseph Foudy, business professor at the NYU Stern School of Business. 

Entire communities, such as resort and beach towns, depend on these employees “to enable them to come to life in the summer,” he said.

Here's how four of Long Island's warm weather workers make it through the winter.

Each year, Rafael Vargas takes a four-month hiatus from his job without any perceptible change in the quality of his family’s life, thanks to his wife, Maria, 46, who owns a tax preparation and bookkeeping  business; his weekly $441 unemployment check; and savings from his seasonal employment.

“If I’m not working, my wife’s working, so we’re always doing well, and I try to live my life normally,” said Vargas, 46.

Marking 22 years with Prestige Lawn Care in Huntington Station, Vargas serves as a supervisor, which involves managing the company’s 14 employees, he said. For 16 years, he has also been the firm’s mechanic, with responsibility for keeping its equipment, including fertilizer machines,  spreaders and slit seeders, in working order.

Since last month, when his hiatus from work began, the Brentwood resident has been doing what he usually does in the offseason, cooking dinners for his wife and their teenage daughter, cleaning the kitchen and focusing on home improvement projects.

He has already painted flowers on a backyard shed and fixed its roof, as well as installed a screen projector and TV in the family’s gazebo, also in the backyard. The 22’ x 24’ structure, which Vargas constructed with a friend two winters ago, connects to his home’s electrical power and plumbing and features a propane grill and heater, sink, refrigerator and pool table.  

“It’s nice and warm inside,” Vargas said, “because I don’t have time to enjoy it in the summer.”

Hal Udell has been a chef for all seasons.  

Throughout the years, the Seaford resident had a nine-year winter gig in the city at the Cornell Club and summer stints at a seasonal Long Beach restaurant, the Nassau Country Club and the Allegra Hotel in Long Beach.

“As a chef, you have to go where the clients are — to New York from the fall to the spring, and to Long Island, from Memorial Day to Labor Day,” he said.

Last summer, from mid-March through Labor Day, Udell, 38, served as the executive chef in Southampton for the newly opened Lobster Roll, which is an offshoot of the Amagansett eatery by that name. Overseeing the entire kitchen, Udell ordered all the food, added daily specials to the menu and trained the staff.

When the Lobster Roll’s management asked him to stay beyond the peak season, Udell, who is married and has two sons, 6 and 3 years old, declined the offer.

The offseason position, he said, meant a reduction in salary, as it involved a cut in the workweek — from five to three days.   Plus, a Southampton apartment, which the firm had extended to Udell in the busy season to minimize the frequency of the 140-mile round-trip drive from his home to the restaurant, wasn’t part of the off-peak deal. His decision also considered his wife’s frustration at being home alone with their young children much of the summer, Udell said.

So instead of traipsing to the East End this winter, the Freeport native has decided to concentrate on his 2½-year-old entrepreneurial venture called Cooking with Hal Inc.  A multi-faceted sideline business, it provides private cooking classes in homes or a group Zoom and, with the use of a commercial kitchen, caters special events, as well as creates custom meals for people with restricted diets or food preferences.

Udell’s fees range from $50 an hour, not including food costs, for a one-on-one private cooking class to more than $10,000 for custom menus for special occasions, depending on factors such as the cost of ingredients and number of people served.

Through YouTube cooking demonstrations, which Udell started producing in his home two years ago, Facebook posts and word-of-mouth recommendations, “my business has been booming since October,” Udell said. “And now that it’s holiday time, I’m booked.”

Since Udell believes that his workload if he returns to the Lobster Roll next summer would leave little time to devote to Cooking with Hal, he is unsure about his future as a seasonal worker. 

As he tells it, his wife, Jennifer, who works in the finance and budget department for LIPA,  provides the financial cushion that enables him to build his business non-stop.

“As a seasonal worker,” Udell said, “I felt that every year I had to start over with my own business, and the hardest thing for me to do was saying, ‘No, I can’t do your party.’”

“In the summer, I work six to seven days a week, but in the winter, it’s two to three days, and for two to three weeks, I don’t work at all,” said Jacobo, 40, a Mexican immigrant who used a pseudonym because he is not authorized to work in this country.

He is not eligible for unemployment benefits.

Since 1999, Jacobo, who entered the United States when he was 16 years old, has worked in Long Island’s landscaping sector, changing jobs periodically for better wages. For the past two years, he has worked for his current employer, earning $25 per hour but, after taxes, his take-home pay drops to $20 per hour, or $800 for a 40-hour workweek. His responsibilities include mowing lawns and trimming shrubs.

In the offseason, his paycheck — from the same employer — dips to $200 a week, “and sometimes less than that,” he said in Spanish, for work that includes clearing fallen leaves and removing snow from customers’ property.  

Jacobo, his wife and their three children live in a one-bedroom apartment on the East End. During the summer, he strives to put aside $4,000 to $5,000 so that he has the reserves to pay his monthly rent of $1,900 and utilities, which can range about $500 to $550 per month. 

Year-round, he also manages to save money by patronizing a food pantry, and because his kids, all born in the United States, are citizens, they are eligible for government benefits, such as food stamps and Medicaid.

Still, he said, “Christmas comes, and we can’t get what we want for the children, because we need the money for rent and utilities.”

For the past two summers, Rossy Jimenez, 30, has tended the bar and waited tables at the Crescent Beach Club’s seasonal restaurant in Bayville.

This year, when the restaurant closed in mid-October, Jimenez collected $441 in unemployment  insurance for six weeks.  She also drove from her Fresh Meadows, Queens, home to Columbia, South Carolina, for a three-month visit with her parents. And since the beginning of this month, she has been delivering meals in Columbia for DoorDash.

Working five days a week for generally four to six hours a day, Jimenez currently earns about $400 a week from the meal delivery service, including a base rate of $2.50 for each delivery plus tips, she said.

In comparison, at the Crescent, Jimenez works five days a week, 40 to 50 hours a week, and makes, with tips, “more or less than $1,500 a week,” depending on the month and the weather.  

But each year as her seasonal job comes to an end, Jimenez has some angst: “Will I have enough money [during the winter], will I find another job and how long will it take?”

Those concerns have led Jimenez to try to work as many shifts as possible at the restaurant, save money for the offseason and, she said, “give people the best of me so they come back and are generous in their tips.”

For Long Island’s seasonal workers, the hazy days of summer mean just one thing: bringing home the bacon.

Each year, between mid-March and Memorial Day, seasonal workers surface to work in weather-driven businesses, from landscaping and golf courses to restaurants and hotels in Long Island’s touristy communities.

Their money-making window ends with the arrival of the offseason, which, depending on the industry, starts a week or two after Labor Day or a few days before Thanksgiving. While some warm weather operations shed some workers, others temporarily shut down and lay off most of their summer help, if not everyone.

As a seasonal industry, landscaping illustrates the cyclical falloff in employees. From a peak of 14,065 workers in last year’s third quarter, the sector’s labor force plummeted 44% to 7,937 in the first quarter of this year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

While some workers are eligible to file for unemployment in the offseason,  it replaces only about one-third of the lost earnings, according to a 2020 study published by the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research.

Seasonal workers are generally eligible for unemployment benefits "if they’ve worked and been paid wages for work in at least two calendar quarters within the last 18 months,” according to Shital Patel, the New York State Department of Labor’s regional analyst and principal economist for Long Island. 

Workers who have their hours reduced in the offseason may be eligible to receive partial unemployment benefits, Patel said, if they work 30 hours or fewer per week and earn $504 or less. And the state’s Shared Work Program allows businesses to manage seasonal adjustments and economic downturns while sparing their workers from full unemployment. The program allows employers to keep their trained employees and avoid layoffs by allowing their staff to receive partial unemployment while working reduced hours. 

For workers who are unsure whether they qualify for benefits, Patel said the labor department encourages them to file a claim if they have worked in New York State within the last 18 months.

Unemployment insurance — as well as a year-round working spouse or partner’s wages — allows some seasonal workers to use their job hiatus to pursue a range of activities, from home repairs to traveling. Others, without such financial cushions, spend the winter months hustling for additional income, including shoveling snow.

Whether they toil in the summer’s heat or a winter storm, "seasonal workers are part of the critical infrastructure of any community but most especially on Long Island,” said Joseph Foudy, business professor at the NYU Stern School of Business. 

Entire communities, such as resort and beach towns, depend on these employees “to enable them to come to life in the summer,” he said.

Here's how four of Long Island's warm weather workers make it through the winter.

Rafael Vargas of Brentwood spends the offseason focused on projects...

Rafael Vargas of Brentwood spends the offseason focused on projects around his house that he doesn't have time for in the summer.  Credit: Tom Lambui

Focusing on projects

Each year, Rafael Vargas takes a four-month hiatus from his job without any perceptible change in the quality of his family’s life, thanks to his wife, Maria, 46, who owns a tax preparation and bookkeeping  business; his weekly $441 unemployment check; and savings from his seasonal employment.

“If I’m not working, my wife’s working, so we’re always doing well, and I try to live my life normally,” said Vargas, 46.

Marking 22 years with Prestige Lawn Care in Huntington Station, Vargas serves as a supervisor, which involves managing the company’s 14 employees, he said. For 16 years, he has also been the firm’s mechanic, with responsibility for keeping its equipment, including fertilizer machines,  spreaders and slit seeders, in working order.

Since last month, when his hiatus from work began, the Brentwood resident has been doing what he usually does in the offseason, cooking dinners for his wife and their teenage daughter, cleaning the kitchen and focusing on home improvement projects.

He has already painted flowers on a backyard shed and fixed its roof, as well as installed a screen projector and TV in the family’s gazebo, also in the backyard. The 22’ x 24’ structure, which Vargas constructed with a friend two winters ago, connects to his home’s electrical power and plumbing and features a propane grill and heater, sink, refrigerator and pool table.  

“It’s nice and warm inside,” Vargas said, “because I don’t have time to enjoy it in the summer.”

Hal Udell, a chef who has worked in the summer...

Hal Udell, a chef who has worked in the summer months for the Lobster Roll in Southampton, uses the winter to grow his own personal chef and catering business.  Credit: Danielle Silverman

Entrepreneurship beckons

Hal Udell has been a chef for all seasons.  

Throughout the years, the Seaford resident had a nine-year winter gig in the city at the Cornell Club and summer stints at a seasonal Long Beach restaurant, the Nassau Country Club and the Allegra Hotel in Long Beach.

“As a chef, you have to go where the clients are — to New York from the fall to the spring, and to Long Island, from Memorial Day to Labor Day,” he said.

Last summer, from mid-March through Labor Day, Udell, 38, served as the executive chef in Southampton for the newly opened Lobster Roll, which is an offshoot of the Amagansett eatery by that name. Overseeing the entire kitchen, Udell ordered all the food, added daily specials to the menu and trained the staff.

When the Lobster Roll’s management asked him to stay beyond the peak season, Udell, who is married and has two sons, 6 and 3 years old, declined the offer.

The offseason position, he said, meant a reduction in salary, as it involved a cut in the workweek — from five to three days.   Plus, a Southampton apartment, which the firm had extended to Udell in the busy season to minimize the frequency of the 140-mile round-trip drive from his home to the restaurant, wasn’t part of the off-peak deal. His decision also considered his wife’s frustration at being home alone with their young children much of the summer, Udell said.

So instead of traipsing to the East End this winter, the Freeport native has decided to concentrate on his 2½-year-old entrepreneurial venture called Cooking with Hal Inc.  A multi-faceted sideline business, it provides private cooking classes in homes or a group Zoom and, with the use of a commercial kitchen, caters special events, as well as creates custom meals for people with restricted diets or food preferences.

Udell’s fees range from $50 an hour, not including food costs, for a one-on-one private cooking class to more than $10,000 for custom menus for special occasions, depending on factors such as the cost of ingredients and number of people served.

Through YouTube cooking demonstrations, which Udell started producing in his home two years ago, Facebook posts and word-of-mouth recommendations, “my business has been booming since October,” Udell said. “And now that it’s holiday time, I’m booked.”

Since Udell believes that his workload if he returns to the Lobster Roll next summer would leave little time to devote to Cooking with Hal, he is unsure about his future as a seasonal worker. 

As he tells it, his wife, Jennifer, who works in the finance and budget department for LIPA,  provides the financial cushion that enables him to build his business non-stop.

“As a seasonal worker,” Udell said, “I felt that every year I had to start over with my own business, and the hardest thing for me to do was saying, ‘No, I can’t do your party.’”

Landscape worker Jacobo, a Mexican immigrant who used a pseudonym...

Landscape worker Jacobo, a Mexican immigrant who used a pseudonym and did not want his face shown because he is not authorized to work in this country, said he puts money aside in the summer months to make it through the winter.  Credit: Tom Lambui

Saving for rent

“In the summer, I work six to seven days a week, but in the winter, it’s two to three days, and for two to three weeks, I don’t work at all,” said Jacobo, 40, a Mexican immigrant who used a pseudonym because he is not authorized to work in this country.

He is not eligible for unemployment benefits.

Since 1999, Jacobo, who entered the United States when he was 16 years old, has worked in Long Island’s landscaping sector, changing jobs periodically for better wages. For the past two years, he has worked for his current employer, earning $25 per hour but, after taxes, his take-home pay drops to $20 per hour, or $800 for a 40-hour workweek. His responsibilities include mowing lawns and trimming shrubs.

In the offseason, his paycheck — from the same employer — dips to $200 a week, “and sometimes less than that,” he said in Spanish, for work that includes clearing fallen leaves and removing snow from customers’ property.  

Jacobo, his wife and their three children live in a one-bedroom apartment on the East End. During the summer, he strives to put aside $4,000 to $5,000 so that he has the reserves to pay his monthly rent of $1,900 and utilities, which can range about $500 to $550 per month. 

Year-round, he also manages to save money by patronizing a food pantry, and because his kids, all born in the United States, are citizens, they are eligible for government benefits, such as food stamps and Medicaid.

Still, he said, “Christmas comes, and we can’t get what we want for the children, because we need the money for rent and utilities.”

Rossy Jimenez of Fresh Meadows, Queens, who works as a...

Rossy Jimenez of Fresh Meadows, Queens, who works as a bartender and waitress at the Crescent Beach Club in Bayville during the summer, is driving for DoorDash while visiting her parents in Columbia, South Carolina, in the offseason. Credit: Lucy Jimenez

An offseason gig

For the past two summers, Rossy Jimenez, 30, has tended the bar and waited tables at the Crescent Beach Club’s seasonal restaurant in Bayville.

This year, when the restaurant closed in mid-October, Jimenez collected $441 in unemployment  insurance for six weeks.  She also drove from her Fresh Meadows, Queens, home to Columbia, South Carolina, for a three-month visit with her parents. And since the beginning of this month, she has been delivering meals in Columbia for DoorDash.

Working five days a week for generally four to six hours a day, Jimenez currently earns about $400 a week from the meal delivery service, including a base rate of $2.50 for each delivery plus tips, she said.

In comparison, at the Crescent, Jimenez works five days a week, 40 to 50 hours a week, and makes, with tips, “more or less than $1,500 a week,” depending on the month and the weather.  

But each year as her seasonal job comes to an end, Jimenez has some angst: “Will I have enough money [during the winter], will I find another job and how long will it take?”

Those concerns have led Jimenez to try to work as many shifts as possible at the restaurant, save money for the offseason and, she said, “give people the best of me so they come back and are generous in their tips.”

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