Holiday sales jobs shifting from storefront to warehouse and van

ALBANY — While Black Friday holiday sales are already under way, retailers are engaging in another annual ritual: Hiring people for the busy shopping season.

But like Black Friday, this year’s hiring is a bit different, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Retail workers may be as likely to work in a warehouse or behind the wheel of a delivery van as they are to work at a cash register.

Employers, who often scrape to staff up for the season, also face challenges due to New York’s complicated unemployment compensation laws that can actually penalize people who work just a few hours per week.

While that’s a perennial issue, local employers say they are so far getting the workers they need to meet the holiday shopping demand, both in person and online.

“A lot of our tenants have transitioned to Zoom and over-the-phone interviews” for holiday jobs, said Crossgates Mall marketing director Jennifer Smith.

She said seasonal hiring so far has tracked that of years past.

Additionally, those who make deliveries for online sales are looking for workers in warehouses, be they the U.S. Postal Service, Amazon or other facilities.

“Historically, a majority of seasonal workers would be on the sales floor, but 2020 has forced everyone – including stores – to think creatively,” said Melissa O’Connor, president and CEO of the Retail Council of New York State.

“Today, retailers are also hiring employees to help operate curbside pickup, distribution and fulfillment services,” she said.

Amazon’s fulfillment center in Schodack has hired 800 people so far for their permanent operation and they are looking for more, said spokeswoman Jenna Hilzenrath.

They start at $15.20 per hour with a $500 sign-on bonus. And the U.S. Postal Service has been hiring extra holiday-season sorters and mail handlers who can earn $16.55 to $18.49 per hour.

These jobs are available as record numbers of New Yorkers have collected unemployment insurance thanks to business closures from the COIVD-19 pandemic.

While there’s been a recent dip in new claims, more people are also seeking extended benefits beyond the usual 26-week period, due to the pandemic.

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