From Bellhops to Busboys, Olympic City Needs Workers


Nancy Ware isn't a track and field athlete, but she faces an Olympic-size hurdle this summer: finding enough employees.

Ms. Ware, who owns Carnegie's Restaurant in downtown Atlanta, has advertised in the newspaper, sent flyers to local fraternities, and even asked her mechanic if he has children who want to wait tables. Instead she's flying in eight relatives from as far away as Chicago and New York to serve the hordes of Olympic visitors expected here next month. Despite her efforts, she's still short about a dozen waiters and cooks.

"It's not a rosy picture," Ware says. "I anticipated in January that we'd have our pick of people to work."

Ware isn't alone. Across Atlanta, hundreds of retailers, restaurants, and hotels are scrambling to fill positions ranging from hamburger flippers to hostesses to bellhops. Many businesses anticipated that the lure of the Olympics would bring a stampede of help. But that hasn't necessarily been the case. At the same time, because this is the largest Olympics ever, those workers who would normally help pad the city's service industry, have been plucked out of an already shallow labor pool to man the Games.

"We're tight as a drum," says Donald Ratajczak, director of the Economic Forecasting Center at Georgia State University in Atlanta. "As far as I know we're the first city that has run an Olympics at the peak of a business cycle."

But the trouble of tracking down workers extends beyond main street. The Olympics itself, which will require about 100,000 workers - 42,500 volunteers and more than 50,000 paid employees - is still looking for everyone from ticket-takers to bus drivers to hot-dog vendors. So far, about 38,500 volunteers are confirmed, says Pressley Harris, a spokeswoman for The Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games.

"Obviously it's a challenge, but the response we've received has been tremendous," she says.

Others, however, claim that lack of volunteers has forced ACOG to make the process more flexible. "I know some people who volunteered, and originally ACOG was ... kind of authoritative ... saying, 'We'll send you here and you work so many hours,' " Dr. Ratajczak says. "Now they're kind of saying, 'Where do you want to go, and how long will we be able to have you?"

All in all, the labor shortage is forcing many businesses and recruiters to make herculean attempts to fill slots.

*Randstad Staffing Services, which is finding 20,000 employees to work at the Olympics, has converted a 34-foot Winnebago into a traveling office. Among its destinations are truck stops, where interviewers try to sign up truckers to be bus drivers during the Games. "You have to be very diligent," explains Rich Jeffers, Randstad spokesman. The company has interviewed more than 50,000 people (many don't pass security checks or don't have good work records) and still has about 4,000 positions left.

*The Georgia Department of Labor has held several job fairs across the state and will hold its largest one June 15, says spokesman Sam Hall. Others will follow. Employers are also having to pay a premium, he says. Starting salaries at many fast-food restaurants have risen $1 to $6.25 an hour. Other companies are paying $8 to $11 an hour for unskilled workers.

*The private sector is using a variety of incentives to woo workers. Mick's, a restaurant chain, is offering finder's fees to individuals who lead them to someone who gets hired. Other restaurants and retailers give cash bonuses to employees if they stay during the duration of the Games. One company has scouted out fraternities at Northeast college campuses for security guards. And temp services are even throwing in health benefits with jobs - usually unheard of.

But economists say employers should eventually be able to find workers, as college students finalize their summer plans. "We'll bulk up heartily on high school and college kids," says Jeffrey Humphreys, director of economic forecasting at the Selig Center for Economic Growth at the University of Georgia in Athens. "Plus, the Olympics is an event that has a lot of appeal. Many of the jobs offer a way to participate and get paid at the same time."

Gerard Borda, an Emory University student who graduated this spring, says many students are sticking around this summer because of the Olympics. Mr. Borda decided to work part time at an internship at CNN and full time as a waiter at an upscale restaurant in the Atlanta suburb of Buckhead. He says he had his pick of jobs.

"I went out one day and was offered jobs by three restaurants right on the spot," he says. "When I was hired they asked me if I had any friends. I told some friends ... and two of them who have absolutely no waiting experience were hired at this fine dining restaurant. I don't know if that's a bad management decision or if they're that desperate to have people."

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