Catholic classroom, but Wal-Mart credo

Doing good: Wal-Mart has used an old Catholic school to train 350 workers for its new store in Port Covington.

March 08, 2002|By Gus G. Sentementes | Gus G. Sentementes,SUN STAFF

A classroom blackboard in a former Roman Catholic middle school in Locust Point reads: "Basic Beliefs: 1. Respect for the Individual; 2. Service to our Customers; 3. Strive for Excellence."

The credo is not from the Vatican but from Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

The world's largest retailer has been using the school as an employment center for its new store in Port Covington, which opens April 17.

Over the past three months, Wal-Mart managers and employees have interviewed 1,400 job seekers in the school library at the Church of Our Lady of Good Counsel.

Those who are hired receive computer-based training courses in a nearby classroom. Some also spent two-week training periods in local Wal-Mart stores.

So far, Wal-Mart has hired 350 people and plans to hire 50 more. Monday it's moving the hiring and training center to the still-empty 145,000- square-foot store - the city's first Wal-Mart.

An overwhelming majority of job applicants are from the city and a "very, very small" number from the counties, said store manager Paul Kram, a 45-year-old Parkville resident and previous manager of the Wal-Mart in Glen Burnie. More than 80 percent of the jobs are full-time positions, he said.

"I'm getting [homemakers] who've never worked before in their 50s and 60s and they like shopping at Wal-Mart and figure they'd like working at Wal-Mart," Kram said.

The 400 new employees will fill a variety of jobs, from shopping cart collectors and cashiers to department managers and overnight staff, Kram said. Employees with no experience start at $6.50 per hour - more than the city's minimum wage of $5.15 an hour.

Sam's Club, Wal-Mart's warehouse club chain, also plans to begin hiring about 125 people soon for the 130,000-square-foot store next door.

A nearby swath of land - still covered with huge piles of dirt - is to be occupied by 10 to 15 stores, according to the site's developer, Starwood Ceruzzi Inc. of Fairfield, Conn. Those tenants have yet to be announced.

The new Wal-Mart has made its presence known in southern Baltimore over the past three months, say community leaders and neighborhood residents. And several employees and applicants said the jobs were coming at a critical time in view of the recession and layoffs.

"I think they did a super job with this hiring process," said Joyce Bauerle, head of the Locust Point Civic Association. "Jobs for everyone, at all levels ... everybody had an opportunity."

The Rev. Ray D. Martin, pastor at Our Lady of Good Counsel, said: "They're providing a future for people who largely wouldn't have any employment at all. It's mostly the poor who are going to be hired by this because there's no opportunity for them."

Wal-Mart's offer of a steady paycheck, health benefits, 401(k) and profit-sharing plans is a big draw.

Brooklyn resident Erika Moultrie, 25, took the bus yesterday - with her 4-year-old daughter Eboni - to apply for a full-time cashier's position. She worked at the Wal-Mart in Catonsville for a year, but left when she moved to Brooklyn. Now, with a Wal-Mart just a short bus trip away, she hopes to be rehired - and dreams of landing a supervisory position.

"It's a great place to work," said Moultrie, pointing to the company's benefits package.

Kram approached Father Martin about using the school as a hiring center in December. The Catholic Community Middle School closed about 10 years ago because of declining enrollment, but various programs use the building, including St. Jerome's Head Start program.

The church didn't charge rent, but Wal-Mart has donated money to its youth ministry program, a neighborhood Catholic school, the Head Start program and several other local civic organizations.

Still, some local leaders wonder if the store will hurt local small businesses in the area - a common concern echoed in cities and towns across the U.S. wherever a new Wal-Mart opens.

"Certainly jobs are good in these times, but in South Baltimore we care a lot about supporting our small businesses, too," said Amy Grace, president of the South Baltimore Improvement Committee. "We want to have our Main Street-style small businesses co-existing with the big stores."

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