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Shaking things up

John Seelmeyer

Here’s one for the books: Wal-Mart worries some Reno-area employers who think the retail behemoth pays too well.

Specifically, they say, the $14.50 an hour that Wal-Mart is offering workers to start at its grocery distribution center east of Sparks threatens to draw off workers from other warehouses in the area.

Wal-Mart’s pay, which can range as high as $18.85 an hour once shift and weekend differentials are factored in, hasn’t escaped the notice of northern Nevada workers.

The company already has gathered applications from 5,000 workers for the 600 positions at the distribution center near Patrick, about 12 miles east of Sparks.

“There has been considerable interest,” says Keith Morris, a spokesman for Wal-Mart’s distribution operations.

The 800,000-square-foot center is scheduled to begin operation in August, and Morris says Wal-Mart will start training workers as loaders, freight handlers, forklift drivers and the like this summer.

The company’s hiring, however, already rattles other employers who worry that they’ll lose workers to Wal-Mart.”It’s going to make a big dent in the warehouse world,” says Tina Grefrath, who manages the JobConnect office at Town Mall in Reno.

Grefrath says she’s heard of at least one employer who offered across-the-board raises of $1 an hour to keep its warehouse crew from defecting.

Other employers say they’re giving a fresh look at their pay rates to ensure they’ll stay competitive.

The average starting wage in the warehouse industry in the Reno metro area was $9.73 last year, according to figures compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Experienced warehouse workers were earning an average of $18.30, the bureau said.

Grefrath says the wages offered by Wal-Mart will allow it to be picky about the folks it hires to staff the new distribution center.

“They’re paying a very good wage, but it’s a very tough job,” she says.

Along with a commute to the Tahoe Reno Industrial Center, workers also will face shift and weekend work.

In a tight labor market the February unemployment rate in the Reno-Sparks area was 4.1 percent some employers are certain to lose workers to Wal-Mart, says Jim Dunnavant, who manages the JobConnect office in Sparks.

“These are not unemployed people,” he says. “They are working for someone else.”

And employers throughout northern Nevada not just the big warehouses in Sparks and Reno are likely to feel the effects.

Michelle Petee, manager of the JobConnect center in Carson City, says Wal-Mart’s hiring is causing manufacturers and other employers in Carson City to make sure their wages are competitive. And she says the Wal-Mart jobs are drawing a good amount of interest among workers in the region.

Despite the pressures felt by some employers, the effects of the Wal-Mart jobs fit with the region’s long-term economic strategy.

“Higher wages in the region are a good thing,” says Ken Pierson, director of business development for the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada.