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FSIS Turns to Bonuses for Hard-to-Fill Positions

USDA’s Food Service and Inspection Service (FSIS) is using the possibility of signing bonuses and college loan forgiveness to fill positions at some rural or remote locations where it is hard to recruit meat inspectors. 

At a time when national unemployment stands near a post-Depression high of 9 percent, FSIS is using recruitment incentives to fill positions in certain “select locations.”

FSIS is doing continuous hiring for food inspectors positions nationwide for starting salaries ranging from $31,315 to $50,431 per year. But based on its “hiring needs” at about a dozen locations, the hire might make a far better deal with Uncle Sam.   

A recruit could get:

– A signing bonus of up to 25 percent of the first year salary, up to $12,607.

– College loan forgiveness, up to $10,000 a year for a total of $60,000.

– Military veterans may be credited with accrued vacation time for their previous service.

To get the extra benefits, FSIS will require a new recruit to accept a duty assignment at any one of the following locations:

-Brawley, CA

-Geneseo and Monmouth, IL

-Delphi, Corydon, Mentone, and Logansport, IN

-Kidron, OH

-Hyrum, UT

-Greeley and Fort Morgan, CO

-Toppenish, Kelso, and Wallula, WA

-Tolleson, AZ

-Cactus, Friona, and San Angelo, TX

-Lexington and Grand Island, NE

-Dodge City, Holcomb, and Liberal, KS

-Milwaukee, Green Bay and Arcadia, WI

-Plainwell, MI

-Minot, ND

-Aberdeen and Sioux Falls, SD

-Worthington, Thief River Falls, and Cold Spring, MN

-Souderton, Fredericksburg, Mifflintown, New Holland, and Wyalusing, PA

The meat industry’s practice of not always locating its facilities in the most desirable places leaves FSIS with a challenge when it comes to recruiting.

“It is very hard to recruit for certain locations,” says Dr. Richard Raymond, the former Under Secretary for Food Safety, who ran FSIS during the last half of the Bush Administration.   

“Packing plants are not always located in the nicest parts of some of our major cities and, of course, some are located in very isolated (some might say desolate) areas, Raymond says.  “Job opportunities for spouses may be limited in many areas, as might education opportunities for children.”

Anyone getting the bonuses must sign an agreement with FSIS to stay in the duty location for at least one full year.

Federal Jobs Digest, which tracks federal job listings and monitors Uncle Sam’s employment offers, says bonus locations can change quickly — -those listed are good for a year unless removed.

FSIS hires individuals as food inspectors based largely on completion of a four-year college degree and completion of an “Online Food Inspector Questionnaire.”  Under work experience, it says being a chef or cook in a large-scale commercial establishment is the type of experience that shows experience in food preparation, handling and sanitation practices.

The new inspector joins the federal government at the GS-5 level on a pay scale with 10 steps on each of 15 levels. Most also join the American Federation of Government Employees, the FSIS union representing about 6,500 meat inspectors.

© Food Safety News
  • Danae in MD

    Requiring meat inspectors to have a 4 year degree plus experience and then only paying them $30K is the reason that they are having trouble hiring. That’s got to be one of the most anemic starting salaries! I believe that administrative assistants start at a GS-5, and that is a non-degree position. The article said they can advance through 15 levels, but that is not true. I looked at USAjobs.com, and the highest they can ever be paid for that job is around $56K (probably around level 10) according to the General Schedule Pay Scale for 2011. The job can’t be much fun, either.
    I don’t believe it has much to do with locations. I also think the author of the article missed an opportunity to point these things out.

  • Desert Rose

    The levels are the jobs, there are ten steps (within grade increases)that you progress through as your career goes. Most line inspectors are a “7”(grade) and the step would depend on how long they have been in FSIS. And no the jobs are not easy! In poultry plants you stand in one place and look at carcasses, making decsions to pass, condemn, trim etc. It’s hot in summertime and cold(altho most plants it isn’t too bad)in the wintertime. The same is true in red meat plants for seasonal temperatures but the smaller plants aren’t too bad. But the job is wet, bloody, interesting, and rewarding knowing that you are helping to keep food supplies safe. The higher grades-“8s,9s,10s”etc or off lines/CSIs-Consumer Safety Inspectors-as are some are called are the ones who pull the samples for the tests required by FSIS for eColi and Salmonella on trim and ground products, do the sponges series for Salmonella, check plant records for compliance,plus perform slaughter inspection duties at smaller plants too. Yes it’s a physically demanding job with extreme temperatures at times but it is a very rewarding job too. And as far as the “four year college” requirements, I know of some inspectors who never went to college and have been hired on. Maybe if something was done bout some plants worki g so much overtime, the inspectors wouldn’t be trying to get out so much! I know of a couple of plants that don’t care if they work 10 hrs/6days a week and some holidays too! That will cause burnout faster than you know!!

    • meatman

      I’m a GS-10 who started as GS-5 with a GED to my name. Sheer determination goes a long ways with FSIS

  • Minkpuppy

    The 4 yr degree IS NOT a requirement. It’s more accurate to say a “4 yr degree OR the equivalent of x years of work experience in food handling”.
    It’s tough to get people into these locations for various reasons. Most are extremely isolated rural areas with no major cities close by and there’s limited jobs for spouses, limited entertainment and limited choices in general. A lot of inspectors don’t want to transfer to certain areas due to high cost of living unless they’re originally from that area etc.
    Intro level meat inspection is far from being a glamorous job which turns a lot of people off. It’s bloody, smelly, hot (or cold depending on the season) and can be dangerous, especially in the red meat plants. You definitely have to be the sort of person that is not vain, likes hard work and doesn’t mind getting dirty.
    The job is physically and mentally demanding. I spent 13 years in the slaughter plants and now suffer chronic neck pain along with carpal tunnel syndrome. I didn’t stop having daily migraines until I got away from breathing chlorine fumes in the poultry plants. I also put up with a lot of intimidation and harassment from plant employees at certain large slaughter plants that shall remain nameless. You have to be tough in every sense of the word and you have to be in it for the right reason which is protecting the public health. Otherwise, no amount of money is enough to put up with the crap. I got out of a hellish situation in a beef plant as soon as I could. It took me about 2 1/2 yrs to get where I wanted to be and that’s only because I was waiting for a new plant to open up.
    The career internship program has been canned so the agency no longer has that tool to recruit college grads into the more “desirable” jobs. From my own experience, USDA never recruited at my college back in the early 90’s. That’s definitely changed.
    Most inspectors start at GS-5 and are promoted to GS-7 after one year. After that, they have the opportunity to promote to the higher GS grades (8,9,10 and up). There are quite a few that are happy being GS-7 line inspectors for their entire 40 yr career and I’d say there’s more that transfer or promote up and out as soon as they can to save wear and tear on their bodies. Those vacancies have to be filled one way or another. Bonuses make it a bit more attractive, especially when they know they can transfer out after a year or two.

  • Desert Rose

    There is a saying back in arkansas that if you want to get into Inspection fast tell the District Offices you’ll go to SW Kansas or Texas or Colorado!! They are always needing help as the new hires would transfer out as soon as possible. Nobody likes working 10 hour days 6 or 7 days a week!! I always said that I may not have a busy life but what life I have I dont want to spend every waking moment at work!! And a lot of plants dont care if they work overtime!! They make up for it in their product rushed out the doors! I enjoyed the job while I was in the agency but the years in poultry also gave me carpal tunnel, altho not bad enough for surgery but I have numbness and minimal feeling in my fingers and red meat was no easier on my hands. I wish it would have been easier on me I might have stayed longer…..
    It definatly is not a job for the faint of heart, you need to be a bit of a…. For lack of a nicer word… hardnose stand your ground…. type person that won’t take no nonsense of (plant)people you deal with. It is a good job/career if you find the right place for you to be in.

    • meatman

      I actually enjoy the work in the red meat plants, poultry not so much. I started as a GS-5 in SW Ks and then in Colorado and Nebraska. Went from a GS-5/7 to an 8 then 9 then a 10 all in a manner of time but found myself being back in SW KS even after going to Arkansas for a couple years to learn poultry I didn’t like it there or the work and now work for another federal agency which never would have happened had I never worked for USDA. I never really had to deal with bad company management and when I did I handled accordingly. There is alot of pressure on the company supervisors and those above them to make production and improve yields which can make it a stressful job so when you have some inspector stop their lines for and unjust reason of course they may get irate as I would as well. All in all its been a good career and even though I have lived and do live in a place FSIS has trouble finding help I and my family really like it, probably helps that my wife and kids were all born in SW KS. As far as the work its not the greatest but sometimes neither is the 8/9 jobs for some of the inspectors in those positions get tasked with having to work 12 hour days 7 days a week month after month but we all stay for a reason. USDA has made it possible for me to have a nice home and raise my family in a middle class lifestyle. So what if the city is 150 miles away, makes for a fun day trip a few times a year.

  • jim

    There is a reason there are huge bonuses (ie taxpayers’ money) being given for these ‘jobs:’ these are the worst sweatshop jobs in the country. Abusive supervisors, boring/dirty/smelly/disgusting, no time for any sort of life. Do not, repeat do not, take these jobs if you are married or have children.
    USDA/FSIS is under the thumb of the meat and poultry industries. Your supervisor will do as the plant manager says, and that includes working you 12-16 hours a day, 6-7 days a week. Do you really think you can check 40 chickens a minute for a hundreds of conditions hour after hour? Do you really think you can do an effective pathologic exam on a cow’s head or guts in under 3 seconds, up to 2500 a day? All mistakes will be blamed on you, not the plant, not your supervisor. You will be hung out daily. Stressful does not begin to describe even the best jobs, and these are the worst. Yeah, that’s the job, that’s why new employees either quit or leave their initial station the first year, and why your taxmoney is being wasted on incentives like this.