Lack of slime-line workers spawns hiring incentives

Posted: Sunday, June 25, 2000

Slime lines filled with transients workers and college students seem to be a thing of the past on the Kenai Peninsula.

They may not all be glamorous jobs, but employment opportunities in Alaska's seafood industry abound. In years past, eager workers flocked to the 49th state for summer employment. But Ken Sirois, an employment security specialist with Alaska Jobs Center in Kenai, said many companies currently are short on employees.

"The whole state is short of workers." he said.

Five years ago, he said, there were about 1,500 Outside job applicants. Today, the state receives just a fraction of that, since the economy is doing so well in the Lower 48, he said.

Laurie Fuglvog, of the Seafood Employment Unit of the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development, said she still receives calls and e-mails from all over the world, but things have definitely changed from past years.

"Six or eight years ago there were summer backpackers looking for jobs, it is not that way anymore," she said.

But with the Alaska Fish and Game's forecast of 4.5 million sockeye returning to the area this year, seafood processors can't afford to be short-staffed, and some are offering incentives to lure employees.

Margie Warner, office manager for Pacific Star Seafoods Inc. in Kenai, said the plant has brought in many workers from Anchorage and the west coast.

The company, processing salmon and halibut, has been operating for about a month and currently has about 75 workers, she said.

"We are right on the brink of having enough," she said.

The plant offers workers a bunk house and a mess hall, while providing break food during overtime hours.

The cost of the bunk, with clean linens, is $5 per day. But the fees are refunded to those who work through the entire season, she said.

Returning workers often receive bonuses aside from the starting pay of $7 per hour.

Warner said an average work week consists of 80 to 90 hours, overtime depends on the amount of fish the plant processes.

Another peninsula processor is appealing to prospective employees who are residents.

Donna Allen, personnel manager with Inlet Salmon in Kenai, said the plant needs workers badly. The company is are running with only half the needed summer crew.

Inlet Salmon offers workers two, 12-hour shifts per day at $6.50 per hour, plus overtime, and a season lasting until mid-September.

Aside from the hourly wage, the company offers other incentives for those still in high school.

One plan offers to pay the student their regular wage while the company contributes an amount per hour worked to the student's high school activities program. The other plan pays a portion of a student's sports activity fee for the upcoming school year.

Allen said high school students make up a large portion of Inlet Salmon's staff.

"If we didn't have them, we wouldn't have half the people we got," she said. "They are what's here."

The plant also offers workers a limited amount of furnished rooms, areas for campers and a snack shack serving prepared meals. Returning workers also are eligible for bonuses.

She said these benefits are necessary because it is hard to get people to come here for such a short time with the booming economy Outside.

Mike Steed, operations manager for Inlet Salmon's Homer branch, said he also employs more residents than in past years.

"We just don't have the spit rats like we used to," Steed said.

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