Mission Yogurt, a concessionaire at Denver International Airport, is hoping its new weekly travel allowance will not only keep its employees happy, but also attract new talent, in what’s becoming a trend for industries in need of on-site workers.
The family- and minority-owned hospitality company is the airport’s only concessionaire to provide $100 in weekly compensation to make up for time spent commuting and waiting in security lines.
“Airports are very rewarding and exciting places to work, but they can also be some of the most difficult locations to access for your shift, in regard to parking, then going through the security process,” said President Rod Tafoya in a statement. “Our weekly travel allowance is meant to show we understand the time that is spent to simply come to work, and we value that time.”
Even before the age of COVID-19, the global business community has weighed the pros and cons of commuter benefits. The discussion is especially pertinent for employers in metro areas like Denver, where long drives, traffic, gas prices and parking can sway potential applicants away from job opportunities.
For instance, Bloomberg L.P. is among the larger corporations to jump on the trend by providing a monthly subsidy for the Washington, D.C., subway.
However, Eric Olson, district president with staffing firm Robert Half, instead pointed to Mission’s weekly allowance as an instance of “unusual allowances,” which companies are attracted to because they’re immediate and don’t have to be permanent.
This ongoing trend is a reaction to the draw of remote work, as industries with the need for on-site employees, such as airports, compete for in-person laborers, he said. Still, “I haven’t seen it as widespread yet because people are still trying to rely on higher salaries.”
Olson warns companies to “proceed with caution” with special allowances and how they’re qualified in accounting systems – including whether they’re wages or earnings in another name. “The government’s going to come looking for their share,” he added.
Edward Van Wesep, professor of finance at the University of Colorado at Boulder’s Leeds School of Business, said right now the intensity of labor market competition is strongest at the job level that doesn’t require a lot of education.
Generally, “it’s the tightest labor market I’ve ever seen in my life,” he said in a phone interview. “It’s very common in those situations to get things like signing bonuses or certain types of pay that are not regular salary.”
Van Wesep can see more companies offering similar benefits moving forward until the market cools – and there’s no sign of that happening anytime soon.
Tafoya said the weekly allowance is his rebuttal to potential hires’ concerns about travel time to and from DIA, which is often at the mercy of construction, traffic and more.
Those demands make an airport job different from others in the Denver area, he said. “We need to take away those sort of objections.”
After two years of COVID-19 restrictions, DIA has seen a surge of passengers eager to travel this year, clocking in nearly 32.2 million people in the first half of 2022. It ranks as the world’s third-busiest airport, the Airports Council International reports.
During the height of the coronavirus pandemic, Mission only made 5% of its pre-COVID sales, keeping 30% of its staff.
Mission runs 14 restaurant concepts, with 11 at DIA, but plans to expand over the next year to almost 30 food, beverage and retail outposts across three airports. The company, which currently employs over 500 nationwide, aims to add more than 300 workers by next year.
Since implementing the weekly travel allowance, Tafoya’s heard that his employees “love it.”
Tafoya, a Denver native, founded Mission in 1988, and brought the business to the airport in 1995 with the opening of Sara Lee Sandwich Shoppe. His company owns and operates restaurant and retail locations mainly in high-traffic airports, including DIA and San Diego International Airport.
Another recent development is the founding of Mission Cares, a nonprofit that uses a dollar-for-dollar matching program to provide workers with grants for “unforeseen hardships,” including medical emergencies and natural disaster recovery.
“We always believed in the airport, and I truly believe it’s the best place to work in town,” Tafoya said.
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