Shared from the 3/18/2020 Houston Chronicle eEdition

Retailers hiring amid big demand for food, supplies

Godofredo A. Vasquez / Staff file photo

Central Market Curbside shopper Karla Escobar prepares an order in 2018. The coronavirus outbreak has made getting groceries curbside even more popular.

Retailers are hiring thousands of temporary workers to meet the surging demand for food, medical supplies and home essentials during the coronavirus outbreak.

Amazon and grocers H-E-B, Kroger and Randalls are looking for full- and part-time employees in Houston to restock shelves, fulfill online orders and deliver them. Retailers in recent weeks have struggled to keep up with skyrocketing demand for dry goods, toilet paper and hand sanitizer as customers have begun stockpiling provisions to avoid making multiple trips to stores.

“Even though people would rather pick up from curbside than go into the store, someone has to bag it and keep it ready,” said Venky Shankar, research director of Texas A&M University’s Center for Retailing Studies. “You need a lot more baggers.”

Amazon said it would hire 100,000 warehouse workers nationally, including 5,900 in Texas, where the minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. These full- and part-time jobs start at $17 per hour, $2 higher than its regular starting pay. The Seattle-based e-commerce giant has nearly 800,000 employees worldwide.

“We are seeing a significant increase in demand (for critical supplies), which means our labor needs are unprecedented for this time of year,” Amazon said in a statement.

H-E-B is hiring daytime and overnight stockers, checkers and baggers for temporary positions. Hourly wages start at $9.50 for baggers, $13.50 for checkers and daytime stockers and $15 an hour for overnight stockers, according to job postings. H-E-B employs 120,000 workers in Texas and Mexico, including nearly 32,000 in the Houston area.

“Texans rely on H-E-B in times of need, and we’re committed to serving our customers through every challenge,” the San Antonio-based grocer said on its jobs website. “We’re looking for some short-term support for our stores.”

Kroger is hiring clerks and pharmacy technicians, who can start as early as this week, according to online job postings, which did not disclose wages. The Cincinnati-based grocer, the nation’s largest, has nearly 500,000 workers nationwide.

“As we experience unprecedented levels of business, while also looking to support the people in our community who are looking for jobs right now, we have immediate positions available combined across our retail stores, manufacturing plants and distribution centers,” Kroger said in a statement.

Randalls is hiring clerks, bakers and managers, according to online job postings, which did not disclose wages. Albertsons, the parent company of the Houston-based grocer, employs 270,000 workers nationwide.

Walmart and Target do not have immediate plans to hire temporary workers en masse.

Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, said it has seen an increase in foot traffic and reduced its hours of operation to support its workers.

“These adjusted hours give our associates extra time to restock and increase cleaning and sanitizing,” the Bentonville-based discount retailer said in an email. “As with any unusual event, we are watching this very closely and will flex as needed to make sure we are serving customers.”

Target, based in Minneapolis, said it is relying on its current employees, adding staff where needed.

“For now, we’re maintaining our current approach to stores hiring,” Target said in a email. “We’re first offering hours to existing team members, then continuing to hire locally as needed at our stores.”

The hiring spree, reminiscent of the seasonal hiring rush during the holidays, comes as thousands of retail, restaurant and bar employees are out of work after local officials shut down restaurants and bars, and as major retailers, movie theaters and gyms have voluntarily closed their doors amid the coronavirus outbreak.

As many as 50,000 jobs are at risk in the Houston area because of the looming economic downturn caused by the virus and the oil crash, according to Bill Gilmer, an economist with the University of Houston.

“We also know many people have been economically impacted as jobs in areas like hospitality, restaurants, and travel are lost or furloughed as part of this crisis,” Amazon said in a statement. “We want those people to know we welcome them on our teams until things return to normal and their past employer is able to bring them back.”

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