Wal-Mart uses top pay to attract distribution workers

Wal-Mart's plan to increase employment at its grocery distribution center east of Sparks by 100 workers comes in the face of a tight labor market in northern Nevada.

But the company will conduct the battle the old-fashioned way: By paying more than many of the other companies chasing after the same small labor pool.

The 672 employees at the center currently earn wages that generally start at $14.50 an hour and reach $18.50 for some weekend shifts.

That means the starting wage in the warehouse isn't much under the average pay of $15.13 for warehouse workers in the region and the regional average includes workers at all experience levels, not just starting workers.

The $18.50 level for workers picking up shift differentials on weekends, meanwhile, is in the top 25 percent of pay for warehouse workers in the region, according to figures compiled by the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation.

"They are one of the higher-paying employers for these workers," says Tina Grefrath, Nevada JobConnect center manager in Reno. "There are people who will leave lower-paying jobs to go to work for Wal-Mart."

The competition for skilled distribution center workers already is noticeable in the region, Grefrath says. A wave of new and expanded distribution centers have opened in recent months, and big construction projects are under way to bring more warehouses to northern Nevada.

The state employment department reported last week that employment in the sector that includes warehousing and transportation in Washoe and Storey counties grew by about 1,100 workers between December 2005 and December 2006. An estimated 12,300 people work in the sector.

Wal-Mart opened the million-square-foot distribution center late last summer. As it hired the first crews, the company received about 6,000 applications for 600 jobs.

The company now has screened most of those 6,000 people and now seeks new applicants to make the drive to the center at Tahoe Reno Industrial Center and complete an application at an automated kiosk.


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