The U.S. food industry is increasingly reliant on temporary workers, a costlier and usually shorter-term solution to persistent staffing shortages at food plants, supermarkets and farms.

Supermarkets and food processors are hiring short-term staff to unload trucks, move goods and assist in-store cooks, filling holes created by employees who have left the workforce during the pandemic or are out sick temporarily from Covid-19. Executives said hiring temp workers can be expensive because they typically cost more per hour than permanent staff and require additional training.

In Kansas, Associated Wholesale Grocers Inc. has retained hundreds of temp workers for its 11 distribution centers in recent weeks, as employees call in sick at record-high levels after contracting Covid-19 or being exposed to it. Most temp workers are traveling to work at the wholesaler’s facilities, and the company is providing housing in hotels and transportation, Chief Executive Officer David Smith said. Short-term workers filled roles ranging from lift operators to order selectors, he added.

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