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KPBS Midday Edition Segments

Amazon Faces Uphill Hiring Battle In Staffing Otay Mesa Warehouse

 August 4, 2021 at 10:43 AM PDT

Speaker 1: 00:00 Amazon is hiring roughly 1500 workers to staff, a new fulfillment center currently under construction in OTI Mesa jobs at the center, we'll start at $15 an hour, but as San Diego union Tribune reporter Phillip Molnar writes that may not be enough to entice workers in a local job market. We're employers are having a tough time attracting talent with the lackluster benefits and low wages they're offering. Phillip Molnar joins us. Now, Phillip, welcome back to the program. Thank you so much for having me. So let's start off with the obvious question. Is Amazon going to be able to fully staff this new center with the wages? There are? Speaker 2: 00:37 Well, if we just look on the surface of what they said, that jobs will start at a minimum of $15 an hour, it could be quite difficult because we've been reporting here at the union Tribune, and even I've heard it on KPBS, that jobs are really hard to get filled right now from a lot of employers, we've heard stories about dishwashers being offered up to $20 an hour. And I even talked to some staffing recruiters in San Diego county that said $15 an hour is way too low to start any sort of operation here in San Diego. What I will say about that is Amazon says the jobs will start at a minimum of 15 an hour. And I have reached out to Amazon to ask, Hey, can you tell me what percentage are at 15 an hour? You know, is the majority of these 1500 jobs? Can it be closer to 18, but Amazon did not respond to that particular question. So we really don't know at this point, the starting Speaker 1: 01:31 Pay though, a $15 an hour seems to fall short on the going rate for hourly work in the current market. What's typical for hourly workers in this county. And why is Amazon offering such a lower base pay? Speaker 2: 01:45 One of the things is the minimum wage here in San Diego county is about $14 an hour right now. But when you actually talk to recruiters around town and you look at job listings, the going rate is more like 17 to $20 an hour. So that's sort of what's happening right there, Amazon. I can't really say for sure, they've been very close lipped on what they were doing down in old time Mesa. They actually, after a year and a half of construction, this is the first time last week when they announced they were hiring. That was actually the first time that they admitted it was them building down there. So I haven't got a whole lot of information from Amazon about what their thinking is about starting at $15 an hour. If they're planning on upping that a lot of people have commented on my article, that the location of the OTA Mesa facilities super close to the port of entry, which I've included in my story, but there are thousands of workers in Tijuana, Mexico that cross every day, still, even with the COVID restrictions cross every day to work in the San Diego county. Speaker 2: 02:46 So some of the comments I've gotten is some theories that they might be trying to get that T one to work force over to this facility so that they will take the lower pay here in the United States and be able, you know, live quite well in Tijuana on that, on that wage. Uh, but what I will know is Amazon sent out in their news release. They said that they will be soon searching for Spanish speaking workers at the facility, but what they didn't say was, are they searching for Spanish speaking only? Or are they looking for bilingual workers? Because those are two pretty big different things. And I did ask Amazon that question, but they just repeated the same line that they will be looking for Spanish speaking workers. So we don't really know at this point what their thinking is in that regard. Did they tell you anything Speaker 1: 03:34 About offering bonuses or anything, any additional incentives? Speaker 2: 03:39 So they didn't tell me, but I went to the actual job listing and it says that new hires will get a hundred dollars bonus. If they show proof of COVID-19 vaccination. I've seen other bonus programs that Amazon has been offering at different locations. I did not see that for the old type Mesa facility, just showing the proof, the proof of the COVID vaccine is Speaker 3: 04:04 Their main bonus right now, you know, these Speaker 1: 04:06 Fulfillment centers they've notoriously had high turnover and controversial working conditions. Do you think that shifting attitudes among prospective workers could lead to a change in how companies like Amazon compensate their workers? Speaker 2: 04:21 Yeah. You know, we're seeing a lot of this across the job market. So a big thing people say, well, one of the reasons we can't find workers is because unemployment is so high right now. And there's definitely some of that going on. But when we actually talked to a lot of individual workers, some of them got used to working from home. They just want to stay working from home. Or they made adjustments to become like a one income household where there might've been two before and it's actually kind of working out during COVID. So they don't want to go back to that. So you see a lot of things that employers are trying to do to get workers back in the office. So I would not be surprised if an Amazon doesn't try to sweeten the pot a little bit, as far as their jobs here. Speaker 2: 05:06 You know, I've just heard about things across the country because you know, there have been union drives at a lot of these facilities and there's also a lot of political pressure based on bad stories that have come out at these fulfillment centers. Even when Jeff Bezos went up to space, I guess two weeks ago now. So Jeff Bezos thanked Amazon and workers and customers for being able to go up to space and his other company, blue origin, but that created a political backlash for a lot of politicians were saying, yeah, the reason you can pay for it is because you pay your employees so poorly and the conditions are horrible. That's what they were saying. So I think there's a lot of pressure on Amazon to sort of change things, things, these facilities, but we'll have to wait and see what happens. Speaker 1: 05:53 I've been speaking with San Diego union Tribune, reporter Phillip Molnar, Philip, thank you so much for joining us. Pleasure as always.

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An Amazon fulfilment center under construction in Otay Mesa is hiring 1,500 workers with a starting pay of $15 an hour - which may present the online retailer with certain challenges given the shifting attitudes on worker compensation in the county.
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