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Seasonal hiring runs into tight labor market

Will companies find the workers they need? “It doesn’t look good,” said Andrew Challenger, senior vice president at hiring firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

An Amazon employee at the Amazon Fulfillment Center in Matteson Wednesday morning, Oct. 13, 2021.
Amazon said Monday it wants to fill 4,500 seasonal jobs in Illinois, most of them at facilities in the Chicago area
Mark Capapas/Sun-Times

’Tis the seasonal hiring season for anyone whose business is tied to the year-end holidays, but businesses are running smack into a historically tight labor market.

Insiders said some retailers or shippers may be unable to get the people they need, cutting into profits and raising the chance of empty shelves and late deliveries in the coming weeks. And that’s despite companies publicizing openings for thousands of temporary workers in the Chicago area.

Amazon said Monday it wants to fill 4,500 seasonal jobs in Illinois, most of them at facilities that have blanketed the Chicago area. The company already has roiled the local labor market with its plans for about 8,000 permanent jobs at facilities in the south suburbs.

The average pay for seasonal hires will be $18 an hour and “much more” in many locations, Amazon said.

Dominant as Amazon is in retail and technology, it could be late to the seasonal hiring game. FedEx announced in late September plans to add 6,000 package handlers and drivers in the Chicago area for an expected holiday rush. At about the same time, Macy’s said it wanted 1,500 people in Illinois for positions at its fulfillment center in Minooka and at its stores, including the Bloomingdale’s chain.

A Macy’s spokeswoman said Monday the company still has more than 1,000 jobs to fill. FedEx had no immediate update on its progress. Most employers have been emphasizing perks such as flexible scheduling, overtime and a chance to get permanent work.

But the competition comes down to salary. A couple of years ago, “Fight for $15,” a campaign for pay of at least $15 per hour, was the theme of labor campaigns. Now, the standard is more like $18.

Dan Shomon, spokesman for Staffing Services Association of Illinois, said companies unwilling to pay $18 are having a harder time finding workers. The association represents companies that provide labor to light industrial manufacturers and food suppliers.

Shomon said some members report that about 25% of seasonal positions are unfilled.

Ecommerce provider Radial, which provides shipping services for various brands, said last week it wants to hire 500 seasonal workers at a fulfillment center in Romeoville. The company cited its own market research that said consumers plan to increase online purchases compared with 2020, a boom year for digital shopping because of pandemic shutdowns.

A Radial spokeswoman said the positions will pay from $17.50 to $18.50 per hour.

Also hiring locally is 1-800-Flowers.com, which said in September it needs 5,000 workers for Illinois sites, including those serving online gift brands in Bolingbrook, Lake Forest and Melrose Park. A spokeswoman said Monday the company still has many open positions, with pay competitive for the market.

Will companies find the workers they need? “It doesn’t look good,” said Andrew Challenger, senior vice president at hiring firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, which predicts retailers nationally will add 700,000 workers during the holidays this year, 36,000 fewer than last year.

The latest federal data show job openings are already plentiful, allowing job seekers to be pickier about where they work. There were 10.4 million job openings in the U.S. at the end of August and 11.1 million openings the month before, the highest on record since at least December 2000, when the government started recording that figure. At the same time, the Labor Department said that the number of people quitting their jobs jumped to 4.3 million in August, up from 4 million in July.

“I’ve never seen a market like this,” said Matt Lavery, UPS’s global director of sourcing and recruiting, who has worked on the hiring side of the package delivery company for 24 years.

Contributing: Associated Press