Do You Need A J-O-B?

by Dagwood l Tuesday, December 04, 2012


Some Middle TN companies are struggling to fill part time positions this holiday season.


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High on some Middle Tennessee employers’ wish lists this holiday season: Temporary workers.

Some major logistics and distribution companies, including Amazon and UPS, are facing the prospect of being short-handed as the holiday shipping onslaught approaches. The reason: They’re still struggling to fill thousands of seasonal positions.

“This year, for whatever reason, has been more challenging than others,” said UPS spokesman Bill Von Schipmann on Monday.

The company has been looking to hire about 450 driver helpers in the greater Nashville area for the coming Christmas rush. Despite various recruiting efforts, including a trio of job fairs at Goodwill Career Solutions centers that drew more than 80 job-seekers, the company remains about 150 short of its hiring goal.

Nashville is among several areas where UPS is facing more competition for holiday help. In all, UPS said about 5,000 of its 55,000 seasonal jobs remain unfilled.

The worker shortages have been more pronounced in areas hit by Superstorm Sandy, which displaced many seasonal workers and created competing storm-relief jobs, as well as in Louisville, Ky.; Austin and Dallas, Texas; and Oklahoma City.

In Louisville, UPS is offering employees $150 bonuses for new hires, who also get the bonus, in hopes of filling 1,000 seasonal positions at its sorting hub.

A FedEx spokeswoman said the shipper has had no problems filling its 20,000 holiday jobs nationwide this year.

Like UPS, Amazon also has not found all the temp workers it wants: About 20,000 of the more than 50,000 seasonal positions at its 40 U.S. fulfillment centers were open as of late November. An updated figure was not available.

That includes some of the roughly 3,300 seasonal jobs at its new centers in Lebanon and Murfreesboro. A spokeswoman for the staffing agency handling Amazon’s holiday hiring said details on the online retailer’s local hiring were not immediately available Monday.

But Tennessee labor officials said Amazon is still searching.

“It has been a little more difficult because we have a more competitive environment,” said Mika Russ, manager of the Tennessee Career Center in Lebanon. “Folks in Wilson County now have more options if they have warehouse experience. And we’ve seen an increase in the number of warehouse positions this year than last year.”

Competition tough

That growth in logistics jobs in Wilson and surrounding counties, plus peripheral jobs created by the Amazon centers, further shrinks the pool of seasonal workers, Russ said.

The pay and nature of the jobs also make them a tougher sell, she and others said.

Amazon is offering temporary workers up to $11.50 per hour, while UPS pays $8.50 per hour. But neither offers benefits nor any guarantee of a permanent job after the holidays. Both jobs can be physically strenuous. And both companies require seasonal employees be available to work flexible hours and overtime as needed.

Those receiving unemployment compensation also risk losing benefits for what may be only short-term work. In Tennessee, a person receiving the maximum $275 a week in jobless benefits can earn up to $69 a week before those benefits are systematically reduced by one dollar for each dollar earned, the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development said.

The unfilled openings are the result of an improving economy and worker belief that better-paying jobs are out there, said Uric Dufrene, a business professor at Indiana University Southeast. It’s also likely that people no longer need to piece together low-paying jobs or take an extra job to pay the bills like they did last year, he said.

The Louisville Courier-Journal and USA Today contributed.