Help Wanted

  • BRYAN CORLISS / Herald Writer
  • Saturday, September 30, 2000 9:00pm
  • Local News

Workers are still needed despite months of Boeing Co. layoffs


Herald Writer

EVERETT — There’s a ton of work stacking up back at the office, Susan Petroskie said with a sigh.

The current menu needs tweaking, said Petroskie, the executive chef for the three-restaurant Lombardi’s Cuccina chain. She really needs to spend some time reviewing costs, to make sure they’re still making money on each dish. And she’s falling behind on planning the special menu for the fast-approaching holiday season.

Instead, on this recent weekday, she’s here in the kitchen, training a newly hired chef and helping him prepare for the lunch rush. The restaurant, after all, is still short two cooks and is having a hard time finding replacements.

"I should be doing everything but what I’m doing right now," Petroskie said.

The problem, she added, is an enduring shortage of qualified workers in Snohomish County.

The sign of the times reads "Help Wanted." Jobless rates are low, and angst among hiring managers is high, as they try to attract ever-more-demanding skilled labor.

"For us, trying to hire somebody, it’s pretty tight," said Bill Viehmann, the engineering manager at Telecom Network Specialist in Snohomish. "I talk to the people over at GTE (now Verizon) headquarters daily and they’re having the same problem."

He’s trying to fill a $30-an-hour job for a telecommunications engineer. He’s been advertising for two weeks, but so far, no fully qualified applicants have surfaced, he said.

It’s a common problem across Snohomish County, said Donna Thompson, a state labor market analyst based in Everett.

Unemployment rates in the county have hovered just over 3.5 percent for the past four months, she said, adding, "We’ve got virtually full employment."

And, uniquely in recent county history, unemployment rates have stayed low, even though Boeing was laying off workers.

That’s because other sectors of the area’s economy have continued to grow, Thompson said. The county’s companies have added 6,300 jobs over the past two years.

And those who couldn’t find jobs close to home have had no trouble getting work down I-5 in King County, where the job market is even tighter, Thompson added.

The result, managers are working harder to find workers, and to pick up the slack when they can’t find replacements.

"I’ve been in the business 25 years and this has been the hardest two years I’ve ever put in," said Diane Symms, Petroskie’s boss and the chief executive of Lombardi’s.

The tight labor market has changed workers’ attitudes toward their jobs, said John Dienhart, who holds an endowed chair in business ethics at Seattle University.

Loyalty to the company is gone, the victim of corporate cost-cutting over the past decade, which translated into higher profits but lower job security, Dienhart said.

Instead, workers are being more demanding of their employers, he said. They want better pay and benefits, of course, but they also want time to spend with family and friends, and they want a positive working environment.

"People really want to work in nice places," Dienhart said. "The good businesses are going to realize they want to hold onto their best employees. If you have a marginal organizational environment, the good people are going to leave and you’re going to be stuck with the people who (aren’t good enough) to move on."

Petroskie and Symms say they want to keep their good people. Lombardi’s offers health insurance, 401(k) retirement plans, free meals, uniforms and competitive pay: $7.50 an hour for entry-level dishwashers, for example. Experienced waitpersons can easily make $20 an hour in tips and wages, Symms said.

But they keep losing people to corporate food service contractors, who provide cooks and staff for cafeterias at places like Boeing, Petroskie said. The attraction: Corporate cafeteria jobs are pretty much 8-to-5, while the restaurant business is all nights and weekends.

"They want to spend time with their families," Petroskie said. "You can’t blame them."

More local businesses might lose workers to Boeing in coming months.

The company has seen a surge in orders this year, has ended major layoffs among production workers and has recalled several hundred former workers to their old jobs. The company hasn’t made any formal announcements about new hiring, but the signs are pointing that way, Thomas said.

And if they start recalling in earnest, that undoubtedly is going to cause ripples in the county labor pool, she said. "It all depends on how many people they need and how fast they need them."

But with general labor in short supply — and skilled labor even more scarce — where will the workers come from?

Businesses might want to start recruiting amid the traffic jams on I-5, Thomas said. There are anywhere from 90,000 to 100,000 county residents commuting each day to jobs in King County, she said.

"There are enough people here in the county to staff Boeing, if they weren’t all driving to King County," Thomas said. "There doesn’t have to be a labor shortage. It’s just that they leave every morning."

Petroskie isn’t sure. Lombardi’s typically finds it harder to find qualified workers here in Everett than at its Issaquah or Ballard locations, even though the pay in Everett is better.

It’s just that there’s a smaller pool of skilled restaurant workers here, compared to in the city, she said.

It’s 11 a.m. and Petroskie already looks tired, especially after the hostess informs her the first large group — 15 people — is due in a half hour.

What’s the solution? "I don’t know," she said.

"It seems to have intensified over the last year," she said. "Maybe it’s going to get worse before it gets better. I sure hope not."

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

Snohomish residents Barbara Bailey, right, and Beth Jarvis sit on a gate atop a levee on Bailey’s property on Monday, May 13, 2024, at Bailey Farm in Snohomish, Washington. Bailey is concerned the expansion of nearby Harvey Field Airport will lead to levee failures during future flood events due to a reduction of space for floodwater to safely go. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Harvey Field seeks to reroute runway in floodplain, faces new pushback

Snohomish farmers and neighbors worry the project will be disruptive and worsen flooding. Ownership advised people to “read the science.”

Grayson Huff, left, a 4th grader at Pinewood Elementary, peeks around his sign during the Marysville School District budget presentation on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2023 in Marysville, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
State OKs Marysville plan with schools, jobs on chopping block

The revised plan would mean the loss of dozens of jobs and two schools — still to be identified — in a school district staring down a budget crunch.

IAM District 751 machinists join the picket line to support Boeing firefighters during their lockout from the company on Thursday, May 16, 2024, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Amid lockout, Boeing, union firefighters return to bargaining table

The firefighters and the planemaker held limited negotiations this week: They plan to meet again Monday, but a lockout continues.

The Trestle’s junction with I-5 is under evaluation (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Here’s your chance to give feedback on the US 2 trestle and its future

Often feel overwhelmed, vulnerable and on shaky ground? So is the trestle. A new $17 million study seeks solutions for the route east of Everett.

Suspected DUI crash injures trooper on I-5 north in Lynnwood

WSP spokesperson said two suspected impaired drivers have crashed into a state trooper in the past 24 hours.

John Pederson lifts a flag in the air while himself and other maintenance crew set up flags for Memorial Day at Floral Hills Cemetery on Friday, May 24, 2024 in Lynnwood, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Volunteers place thousands of flags by veterans’ graves in Lynnwood

Ahead of Memorial Day, local veterans ensure fellow military service members are never forgotten.

People hang up hearts with messages about saving the Clark Park gazebo during a “heart bomb” event hosted by Historic Everett on Saturday, Feb. 17, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Future of historic Clark Park gazebo now in hands of City Council

On June 5, the Everett council is set to decide whether to fund removal of the gazebo. It could be stored elsewhere.

Brian Hennessy leads a demonstration of equipment used in fire training at the Maritime Institute in Everett, Washington on Wednesday, May 22, 2024. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
‘Ready to go full sail’: Maritime Institute embarks at Port of Everett

The training facility offers Coast Guard-certified courses for recreational boaters and commercial vessel operators.

George Beard poses for a photo outside of the the Stanwood Library in Stanwood, Washington on Wednesday, May 8, 2024.  (Annie Barker / The Herald)
From sick to the streets: How an illness left a Stanwood man homeless

Medical bills wiped out George Beard’s savings. Left to heal in his car, he got sicker. Now, he’s desperate for housing. It could take years.

Logo for news use featuring Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Lawsuit says Snohomish County deputies not justified in Sultan shooting

Two deputies repeatedly shot an unarmed Sultan man last year, body camera video shows. An internal investigation is pending.

An airplane is parked at Gate M9 on Tuesday, May 21, 2024 at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, Illinois. (Jordan Hansen/The Herald)
Good luck to Memorial Day travelers: If you’re like me, you’ll need it

I spent a night in the Chicago airport. I wouldn’t recommend it — but with flight delays near an all-time high, you might want to pack a pillow.

Editorial cartoons for Friday, May 24

A sketchy look at the news of the day.… Continue reading

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.