Help Wanted

help wanted 0120

This morning I thought I’d go looking for a job. The thought didn’t last long, stymied at every short turn I took.

I don’t actually want a new job. What I want to know is what people are getting paid in Gunnison, relative to Pat’s Screen Printing. I don’t need to know what any one person is getting paid; what I would like is a sense of what the payscale is out there, particularly as Colorado’s minimum wage has screamed up something like 50 percent over half a decade. I believe it was around $8 per hour when Colorado voters approved a stepped increase to $12, which we reached on Jan. 1.

In a burst of honesty I will tell you that it has been difficult for Pat’s to stay ahead of these increases. I have a friend, more or less retired from her bookkeeping career, who used to counsel, “A dollar a year” pay raises for good employees. Now, thanks to stepped-up minimum wage, any entry-level employee, good, bad, indifferent, has received a 90-cent increase each of the last several years. So perhaps the counsel now is $2 per year for good employees, but I don’t really know how to go about that without bankrupting my small company.

There’s always the “raise your prices” advice, and as my trash company, chiropractor and utility companies have all served notice that this is what they have done, effective Jan. 1, it would seem I would not be out of line to do so. But we did raise our prices, twice, last year, and at some point we have to balance the part where our business model lies in providing “affordable” promotional items, often intended as giveaways to event volunteers, at races or as advertising.

So we’re working on some things, but what it would be helpful to know is what the market is paying people. Another friend of mine works for the Housing Authority, and a couple months ago he told me the median (perhaps he said average — I know there’s a difference) income for city of Gunnison residents is somewhere right around $20,000, which is hardly impressive.

Under this year’s minimum wage, a full-time worker ought to bring home $24,960, but we don’t always deal in full-time around here, particularly in Crested Butte, where businesses think nothing of closing down for most of the spring and some of the fall.

Lynn, who used to be employed year-round by Sodexo, the food service provider for Western No Longer State, was frequently laid off for periods up to a month after the spring semester ended. Now she’s employed by the U.S. Postal Service in a “temporary” capacity, which means they more-or-less terminate her once a year, make her sit out of work for five days, and then rehire her. Cuts down on those pesky benefits.

Tracking what other businesses paid used to be fairly easy. It was just a matter of reading the employment ads in the local papers. Now, the only agencies I can find who post wages are the county, sometimes the school district and the now-university. Others offer “competitive wages,” although I don’t know how they even know that to boast about it, and most just don’t bother to tell a prospective employee what they plan to pay.

I tried a little harder, a week or two ago. I went to the Workforce Center, conveniently located just behind Pat’s, but I got very vague, unhelpful answers from Jenny, who is usually quite helpful. It may have been because, in an economy that’s supposed to be serving nearly everyone who wants a job, the place was packed with job-seekers both times I stopped in, and Jenny’s attention was spread rather thin.

This morning — it was early, that’s my excuse — I had what seemed like a brilliant thought: I will look for a job in Gunnison, where there are several “help wanted” signs, often at fast food and the groceries, and get a sense of wages that way.

It turns out, though, that I can’t get much information from Workforce without setting up an account, and the first thing they want from you is your Social Security number. I don’t need a job that bad.

Then I tried going to City Market’s website, because they are forever hiring, but they offer even less information. They need help, and they post a video on why you should consider a career with them, but you have to be smarter than me to get to any additional information.

Don’t you think at some point fairly close to the front you would need to tell people what you plan to pay them? But this seems to be a closely-guarded secret.

Perhaps it’s just me: job hunting has never been something I excel at, and of the handful of jobs I have held as an adult, most of them came about because I knew someone. I did use Workforce once, back when it was Job Service, but in those days they had a bulletin board with available jobs tacked up on index cards, all of them noting the wage. They don’t have that anymore.

I have often thought, over the years, that this should be a service offered by chambers of commerce. Pat’s is a member of two of them, and our dues feel mostly like money we just toss out there to be good members of the business community. I don’t know that I’ve ever used anything touted as a “benefit” by either entity. Although there was the time I went to a Business After Hours and won a free month of internet service, so I guess there’s that.

But don’t you think a periodic anonymous survey on wages and benefits might help members know if their wage is indeed “competitive”?

There are other resources, although I don’t know how resourceful they actually are. There’s ICE, the unfortunately-named economic development engine housed if not hosted by Western that reimagines and rebrands and restaffs itself every couple of years, and there’s the Small Business Development Center, which was at Western, then maybe the chamber, now maybe Montrose. There’s Region 10, which covers Gunnison and several counties to the west of us. They may actually have surveys or at least some sort of wage information.

Jenny from Workforce did show me a couple of websites, neither of which I’ve explored yet. The example she gave me seemed rather abstract and more of a state average, which isn’t helpful when the state’s average income is probably twice that of Gunnison’s.

Back in the day, that day being before well-intentioned voters set out to make sure all workers could access a living wage, I took pride in starting people over minimum wage, and I have always tried to pay people as much as the business can manage. The last couple of years that just hasn’t looked nearly as impressive as it used to, and I wonder if my fellow business owners are facing this same struggle.

Once I had a union organizer (I have no idea why he was living in Gunnison) tell me he’d calculated a living wage in Gunnison to be almost $17. This could have been 20 years ago, probably back when minimum wage was $6-ish. I told him there was no way I could afford to pay that. He smiled, kind of fatuously (I’ve always thought), and said, “Then maybe you shouldn’t be in business.”

It fell to my friend Judy Barry to point out that regardless of what this man, who didn’t stay here long, thought, I was providing jobs to people who needed them. She said that ought to count for something. I’ve always hoped she was right, and it’s still my hope today.



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