Hurricane Katrina continues to afflict dealerships throughout the Gulf Coast region. Dealers now report losing employees to higher-paying storm-cleanup jobs.
Keith Hanks, general manager of Lakeside Toyota in Metairie, La., said three service technicians quit after the hurricane in late August. They now are draining coolant from refrigerators removed from flood-damaged homes -- a job that can pay a lot better.
Hanks said his store pays technicians $12 to $25 an hour, based on their experience and workload. The jobs his ex-employees took pay $25 an hour, he said.
"Storm-related work is paying a lot of money to people with low skill levels," Hanks said.
"I feel that once the reconstruction subsides, these people will come back to work" at dealerships.
Labor shortages are acute in hurricane-battered communities. Many residents who fled the New Orleans area have not returned. An estimated 350,000 to 500,000 residents lack permanent homes, says Mark Smith, spokesman for the Louisiana Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.
Dealership employees with skills and experience, such as service technicians, can make $20 to $25 an hour in reconstruction jobs, Smith says.
Alex Prokop, general sales manager of Ray Brandt Toyota in Metairie, says none of the dealership's four detailing employees returned in late September when the store reopened after the hurricane. The store's sales staff prepared vehicles for delivery, he says.
Prokop says entry-level porters and detailers at local dealerships generally earn $7 to $8 an hour. He says he has heard of contractors paying workers $100 to $125 a day in cash to remove drywall and haul storm debris.
"It's almost at a crisis point," he says of the employee shortage.
Prokop has hired new detailers. But he says he would rather do some jobs himself than risk hiring the wrong people.
"I'd rather run very lean," Prokop says, "and do the work myself to satisfy my customers. I'm the one who has to look them in the face."
You may e-mail Arlena Sawyers at [email protected]