Reading and hearing about all the companies’ desperately searching for employees in northern Indiana, I repeat what my mother-in-law said nearly 50 years ago, “I’m retired, but with all the ads in the newspaper for jobs, I feel like I should go get a job and help out.”
Many of our family - children, grandchildren and in-laws - live in that same area, which is a major production hub for recreational vehicles. Back 50 years ago, I worked for a short time with a company that sewed cushions for camper trailers. My future husband took a second job cutting through dozens of layers of floral fabric for the cushions which I stitched into cushion covers.
During our recent visit, we met a son who helps set doors on smaller RV’s and his son-in-law who helps build the high end quarter to half a million dollar RV’s. Another of his sons-in-law works in the warehouse that supplies parts for RV factories. They all work overtime every week to meet demand. Perhaps because the pandemic forbade so many inside activities this past year, the demand for the RVs has exceeded the supply. Employees work overtime 5 days a week and Saturdays.
We listened to stories of folks walking away from their jobs because they received a stimulus check or knew an unemployment check would cover basics. They know they could quickly and easily land another job somewhere else when they decide to work again. Unlike last year when many factories closed, it is now an employee’s market.
With that in mind, companies issue incentives to get and keep employees. One of the relatives, a five year employee who has done the same job for five years, recently received a $4 an hour pay increase for just staying at the plant. The company saw a crisis coming when six employees abruptly quit. Any business needs steady, trained workers who will stay. So now this young father earns significantly above even the proposed minimum of $15 an hour.
The pay increases and long hours include fast-food restaurants, big box stores and gas stations. Most places sought folks to apply, join and then show up to work faithfully. So at the big box store, the child who once struggled with school recently welcomed a $2 pay increase along with everyone else. The day before she learned of the leap in pay, she completed the final step to land a new job. She wanted a different working environment, “but $2 an hour more! I couldn’t turn that down,” she grinned. She enjoys her full insurance and retirement benefits and will stay … for now.
Another grandchild went to work at a gas station recently. “If I refer a friend and they are hired, I get a $100 finder fee and another bonus if they stay 90 days,” she said.
Seems logical, especially as we drove through the business section. “Look at the sign in front of the fast food place,” I said. “They want applications and promise a sign on bonuses of $500 as well as pay beginning at $11 an hour for part time and $13 an hour for full time.”
Such a flush economic time for the area. I left agreeing with my mother-in-law, “I could easily feel like I need to find a job and help. So many companies need employees.” The pandemic may have slowed down work. It did close the non-essential factories last year, but the demand for those companies’s products never stopped. This year folks are working long and hard to catch up with the demand, and companies will pay plenty to hire and keep folks on the job.
Joan Hershberger is a former staff writer for the El Dorado News-Times and author of “Twenty Gallons of Milk and other columns from the El Dorado News-Times.”