Job seekers spend night in line - wait up to 12 hours to apply for Tyson's openings
BERRYVILLE -- Imagine camping out through the night in subfreezing temperatures just to get an employment application. Sound like a scene from the Great Depression?
It's happening right here in Carroll County.
Mary Strandberg, Nina Denton and Jennifer Molholland can attest to that. The three women spent Monday night camped out for 12 hours in front of the Tyson Foods Employment office in Berryville.
They were bundled against the cold and seated in their own chairs while waiting to be first in line when the office opened at 7:30 a.m. to get one of the Tyson job applications being distributed.
Denton said she had lined up a month ago and there were about 100 people in front of her and another 200 behind her. She was the seventh person in line when they stopped handing out applications.
The scene Denton described has become commonplace at the poultry giant's employment office here during the last couple of years.
That comes as no surprise as more people look for year-round jobs in a tough economy, especially jobs that come with a benefits package.
The poultry giant offers just that, and says it is actually adding jobs although it cannot keep up with the demand.
Hourly starting pay for the new production jobs is $10.50 for day shift and $10.90 for the night shift. Tyson also provides benefits such as health, dental, vision and prescription drug insurance, paid vacations and holidays, a retirement savings plan and stock purchase plan.
"Our employment office in Berryville has had significantly more job seekers than open positions over the past couple of years," confirmed Gary Mickelson, spokesperson for Tyson.
"We believe this is likely due to the economy, along with the fact that the number of available jobs we have had to offer has been limited due to the stability of the workforce at our Berryville and Green Forest plants."
Mickelson said Tyson is actually adding jobs.
"As part of continuing efforts to operate more efficiently, we're starting a new chicken deboning process at our Berryville and Green Forest plants," he said.
This move will involve the installation of some new processing equipment and the addition of approximately 200 to 250 production jobs at the Berryville plant and about 50 production positions at Green Forest.
"We've already started hiring and have filled 100 positions so far," he said. "We hope to have the remaining jobs filled within the next couple of months as we ramp up the additional deboning work."
Mickelson said they generally take 40 to 50 employment applications two times a month.
"The days we accept applications are typically announced through the Arkansas Department of Workforce Services in Harrison, through newspaper ads and by posting a notice on the door of the Tyson Employment Center in Berryville," he said. "Once the day is determined, job seekers can come to our employment office between the hours of 7:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. They fill out the application and turn it in."
Because the number of jobs seekers has consistently been higher than the number of applications being handed out, he said people often start lining up early outside the employment center to be among the first to get an application.
"We typically give first consideration to applicants with two or more years' work history with the same employer," he noted.
The number of applications distributed each time varies depending on the qualifications and eligibility of the applicants.
Although Tyson is a major employer in Carroll County, the tourism industry also plays a large role.
That is evidenced by the unemployment figures tracked by the state's Department of Workforce Services.
According to those figures, the county enjoys an unemployment rate of around five percent for seven months of the year during the tourism season -- much lower than the national average of nine percent.
Kimberly Friedman, communications director for the state agency, said Carroll County's unemployment rate decreases as the weather warms.
Unemployment is typically highest in January.
"The decrease in Carroll County's unemployment rate is seasonal," she confirmed, "as we tend to see this occur during this time every year.
"I cannot list specific companies due to confidentiality laws, but I can say that the decrease in the rate is largely attributed to the leisure and hospitality industry, which includes hotels, restaurants and leisure activities."
Until the economy kicks into high gear and jobs are plentiful again, the lines at Tyson will likely continue.
Those who are hired will join the ranks of "Tyson Team Members" numbering in the thousands.
Mickelson said the recent change in operations means employment at Berryville will rise from 1,260 to about 1,500 team members.
"Including our Green Forest and live production operations," he added, "our overall employment in Carroll County will increase from just over 2,900 to about 3,200 team members.
"We estimate the new jobs will generate more than $6 million in additional payroll in Carroll County."