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Labor Crisis – Front and Center Part I

By Craig Lloyd, CEO Laundrycareers.com

If you have laundry industry friends and connections nationwide as I do, then you know our current labor crisis is not localized to your area, state or even region.

What is the labor crisis, what is causing it and what can we do about it?

During the past 25 years I have toured hundreds of plants nationwide, some plants we refer to as ‘train wrecks.’   The labor crisis examples I am hearing however, are with operators who have impressive showroom quality plants, many with fairly new equipment, high standards of housekeeping and positive company cultures.

This crisis much more than a shortage of candidates for the skill positions, most notably the positions requiring laundry equipment technical diagnosis/repair knowledge and linen production processing management experience.  That category has been trending with acute shortages for the past five to seven years.

The exasperation felt by many operators and managers today has more to with two commodity categories of positions – the non-exempt production associate and the salaried supervisor.  Neither category needs laundry industry experience but does require a willingness to work in a production environment with physical and psychological demands.

Not only are candidates for these two categories not applying, but they are also not returning calls/messages regarding their application or resume.  Moreover, the ones who do interview and accept the job offer often are not showing up for their first day of employment or simply quitting after a few days working in the plant.

Mike Ruopoli, operations manager for ten years with American Wear in New Jersey, gave me an example of how on a recent weekend their designated recruiter had reached out to 20 plus route sales rep candidates and 20 plus service manager candidates via Indeed resumes.  Only two to three from each category responded and those scheduled for interviews never bothered to show up.  Personally, if I was a candidate and took the time to visit their website of this third-generation operator, I would have been motivated to apply simply because of the video narrated by the owner.

Meanwhile, unfilled production associate positions adversely impact production shift capacity. I know of several five-day plants that have put a Saturday shift on only because they are short-staffed during the week.

The reason most often quoted as the cause for our labor crisis points to the extra stipend paid up and above unemployment checks for unemployed individuals.  Another reason floated up is parents needing daycare and/or aftercare alternatives now must contend with school-age kids forced to attend school remotely who now sacrifice their (low) wages to remain at home.

Are our wages too low? Our expectations too high? Recently I have read disparaging articles about the work expectations of Amazon’s many distribution centers which employ thousands nationwide in production-driven environments.  Two 15-minute breaks, half-hour for lunch, on your feet all day, with job security based on productivity. All of which sounds familiar to the world of our laundry plant workforce, except the wage disparity appears to be an average difference of roughly five dollars per hour ($10 – $11 vs $15 – $16).

How is the quality of work in laundry plants perceived by its workforce?  Is a two-star motel with its housekeeper and housekeeping supervisor positions considered a step up from laundry plants?  Are chicken processing plants a step down from laundry plants?

When significant percentages of  laundry plant workforce were laid off in 2020 did most elect not to return when called back? Did the layoffs incite them to spread negative reviews to their friends and neighbors?  Has increased I-9 enforcement and ICE audits discouraged certain employers from accepting dubious employment credentials?

Is Covid, especially with its Delta variant, creating concerns to the soil sort production associates and the multi-lane small piece feeders in flatwork?  Are inconsistencies with mask policies and/or vaccination expectations creating a reluctance to apply or remain on the job?

Jenny Taitz, a reporter with the Wall Street Journal, put a fascinating premise in her Aug 27, 2021 article titled, ‘Honest Communication in the Age of Ghosting.’  Online technology has created much frustration by job seekers the past ten to fifteen years – they feel their resumes fall into the black hole of employers’ HR departments, clueless as to whether the resume was received or seriously considered.

Is the shoe now on the other foot?

Next week in part two of Labor Crisis Front and Center we will look at what we can do about the laundry industry’s labor crisis.


Image Top Right (c) CanStockPhoto


About the Author
Craig Lloyd is the founder and CEO of LaundryCareers.com, a management search firm specializing in the industrial laundry industry since 1998.  Previously he was the Director of Staffing and Relocation for the National Linen Service.  He has toured hundreds of laundry plants nationwide, completed his CPLM through a three-year PMI program and enjoyed membership with most of the laundry industry trade associations.  Craig can be reached at craig@laundrycareers.com for discussion on any staffing issues.