In a competitive job market, towns are struggling to attract summer workers Local News

Scott Kowal tells prospective employees that working as a seasonal laborer in the Cheektowaga Sanitation Department is Hard – with a capital H.

“It’s a very difficult task. It’s labor intensive, ”said Kowal, general crew chief for the last five years.

Chris Bukowski, left, and Rashawn Vailes from the Cheektowaga Sanitation Department ride on the back of the truck as they pick up grass clippings and yard waste at Andres Place, Wednesday, June 22, 2022.

Derek Gee / Buffalo News

But attracting and keeping workers is becoming difficult and labor intensive – and more expensive.

In an effort to attract candidates, local municipalities are raising pay, networking with schools and churches and using social media to get the word out about summer jobs.

It’s a common tale across the state and the nation. Many employers are having a difficult time getting workers, and municipalities are no exception. The unemployment rate is low and there are more jobs available than there are workers across the region and nationwide. On Wednesday, Gov. Kathy Hochul said a record number of summer job opportunities are available to New Yorkers in a variety of industries, in every region of the state.

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In Amherst, Youth & Recreation summer staffing is adequate for certain positions, but the department does not have much room to spare if a few people call in sick.

Tonawanda’s Youth, Parks and Recreation Department could use two or three times as many part-time workers as it has now.

Lackawanna is still looking for gardeners and a public works staffer.

The Cheektowaga sanitation job starts early – 6 am – and the weather can be cold and rainy or hot and humid. Workers pick up grass and yard debris, and if it rains, those containers of grass clippings can get heavy when workers heave them into the truck.

Cheektowaga sanitation workers (copy)

Rashawn Vailes and Joe Alba from the Cheektowaga Sanitation Department pick up grass clippings and yard waste on Andres Place, Wednesday, June 22, 2022. The town is having trouble hiring and keeping employees to do this type of work.

Derek Gee / Buffalo News

“I’ve had people last a half a day, one day or two days,” Kowal, general crew chief, said. And sometimes when they quit, they don’t call, they just don’t show up. Then the town has to pay other workers, and even Kowal, overtime.

To ease the problem and save money on overtime, the Cheektowaga Town Board last week increased the pay for seasonal and part-time workers in the Sanitation and Parks Division of Facilities Department from $ 14 to $ 17 an hour.

“I just hired two people this week,” Kowal said, adding that he interviewed another candidate Tuesday. “I hope he’ll be hired next week.”

The town did the same thing two years ago, he said, when the pay increased from $ 12.50 to $ 14, and that attracted more candidates.

Amherst’s Youth & Recreation Department hired enough people for camp counselor and lifeguard positions, but Executive Director Mary-Diana Pouli believes that just a few people calling in sick could cause a disaster.

Pouli said it was difficult to find and retain workers, especially seasonal laborers and clerical staff.

“We have not been able to compete with the wages that people can get out in the private sector,” she added.

Amherst raised the pay for employees in the program, which are typically college students, to $ 15. However, laborers and clerical workers still earn the minimum wage of $ 13.20, Pouli said.

And it may be difficult to compete with New York State jobs. The governor directed that the pay for lifeguards at state facilities increase 34% upstate, from $ 14.95 per hour to $ 20 per hour. The rate for lifeguards at downstate facilities will go up 21% to $ 22 per hour.

Pouli also believes people hold different expectations for their work lives as they emerge from pandemic life.

“We are open 21 hours a day, seven days a week, 360 days a year,” she said, “So, you know, people want that work-life balance and you don’t always get that having to work evenings and weekends . ”

Amherst has also struggled with no-shows in interviews – a complication it hasn’t experienced in the past, but has encountered on numerous occasions this year.

In previous summers, Tonawanda’s Youth, Parks and Recreation Department would employ eight to 12 part-time maintenance workers. Now, depending on the day, there are three or four maintenance workers staffed at the parks and golf courses.

While he hates to use it as an excuse, the department’s superintendent, Mark Campanella Sr., attributes the Covid-19 pandemic to the worker shortage.

“We’ve never had this problem until Covid came up,” he added.

When it comes to part-time positions, the department struggles to compete with the private sector’s pay, Campanella said.

“Just about every industry in the world is affected with shorter staff, so it’s just not exclusive to a municipality,” he said.

While in the midst of the budget season, Campanella said the town is looking into offering part-time workers more money, but still can’t come near the $ 17 or $ 20 private industries can offer.

A couple of the seasonal hires in Hamburg’s Buildings and Grounds Department did not work out this year, and the town was hoping to look at others who had applied, but there are no current applications, Supervisor Randy Hoak said.

“While we wish we had more applicants to fill the seasonal need, it’s not a desperate need,” Hoak said. “We’ll probably do social media outreach.”

Lackawanna is looking for another seasonal worker in its Public Works Department and two summer gardeners to do landscape and beautification work on city properties.

The city has done networking into the community and with community influencers, Clark said, citing a good relationship with schools and parishes.

The quality of the messaging is not so much an issue as connecting to the right candidates that will do the type of work the city is looking for, he added.

“It’s just a matter of having the desire and the willingness to show up and work,” Clark said.

Not all towns in the region are understaffed.

Lancaster felt compelled to advertise for job openings in local newspapers more than usual, said the town’s supervisor, Ronald Ruffino. As a result of the ads and a need for people to return to the workforce, the town found just the right number of employees, he said.


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