FedEx commuters

FedEx workers wait at a Walmart parking lot in Cleveland to board a Delta Bus Line bus to get to their jobs at the company’s hub in Memphis.

Every weekday afternoon, Greenwood residents Mary Harris and her son, Denzell Bass, embark on a four-hour commute to work at FedEx’s world hub in Memphis.

Their commute begins at 4:30 p.m., when Harris drives herself and her son a little more than an hour west to the bus station in Greenville. They, along with other FedEx workers who live in the area, take the Delta Bus Line beginning at 6:30.

The three-bus fleet stops in Cleveland and Clarksdale to pick up more FedEx workers before arriving in Memphis at 9:30 p.m.

Neither Harris nor Bass minds the long trip.

“I sleep all the way there and all the way back,” Harris said. “I have my pillow and my blanket. I’ll be stretched out.”

Bass also said he doesn’t mind the long bus ride since the cost is covered by FedEx.

Denzell Bass and Mary Harris

Denzell Bass, left, and his mother, Mary Harris, commute from Greenwood to work at the FedEx hub in Memphis every weekday.

Harris, 39, and Bass, 20, are two of around 200 FedEx employees who live in the Delta but commute to the FedEx hub. They work 25 hours a week — five-hour shifts from 10:30 p.m. to 3:30 a.m. Monday through Friday — sorting packages that will later be shipped off.

By the time Harris and Bass are done with their shift and make it back home, it’s around 7:30 a.m.

They are willing to go through the long commute in exchange for a higher hourly wage — $13.80 an hour — and benefits.

Gretchen Mathis, a communications adviser for FedEx, said part-time employees are eligible for medical, vision and dental benefits after 90 days of employment.

Workers are also eligible for the LiFE program, which allows them to get a degree from the University of Memphis with no potential out-of-pocket tuition costs, or to take online classes with no up-front tuition costs through the LiFE Prep Academy, which prepares students to pass the High School Equivalency exam, Mathis said.

Pam Chatman, a former television news director in Greenville who collaborated with FedEx to have Delta residents hired by the company, described the position as a “part-time job with full-time benefits.”

Chatman said she had often heard about the lack of job opportunities in the Delta. She worked with FedEx to launch two job fairs in Cleveland, one in December and one in February, that offered a “one-stop hub” for applicants to fill out applications, take a drug test and get a background check.

“These are great opportunities,” Chatman said. “Now we’re bringing money back to our communities.”

That money allows people to pay their rent, see the doctor and purchase groceries, she said: “I think we’re helping our community until opportunities come here.”

Harris grew up in Merigold and  moved to Jackson to become a truck driver once her parents passed away. She crisscrossed around the country for a while until her diabetes symptoms got out of hand and she had to settle down.

She and her son moved to Itta Bena in September so she could be close to her new place of work at a catfish processing plant. She worked as a trimmer and said she was paid an hourly wage of $7.35 to $11.50, depending on her production. She described that job as “stressful.”

While working for the catfish plant, Harris began searching for another job. A friend contacted her about positions available at FedEx, having heard about it from a Chatman post on Facebook.

Harris attended the job fair in Cleveland in December, and two weeks later she was hired. Now she’s happier and more stable, she said.

She doesn’t have to stand in one spot for long periods at work, and there are opportunities to “grow into the company” and become a manager or team leader.

“It changed my living, my thinking,” she said, also thanking Chatman for helping launch the job fair.

The new job allowed Harris to purchase a new car and move to an apartment in Greenwood that gave her and her son more room.

Harris said that before she was hired for her current job, she didn’t come across any jobs in the Delta that paid as much as FedEx. She had applied for positions elsewhere in north Mississippi that offered $13-an-hour wages.

The average hourly wage for occupations in Memphis for May 2018 was $21.45, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, compared to $17.30 for occupations in northwest  Mississippi.

Furthermore, the average hourly wage for a laborer not pertaining to farm work or construction in Memphis was $13.84, higher than the $11.28 hourly wage for laborers in northwest Mississippi.

Harris said she’d like employers in the Delta to become competitive by offering higher hourly pay.

Bass, who had worked at an automotive plant in Cleveland for $7.63 an hour, has been working for FedEx since February. “The opportunity was so great,” he said.

Harris said she’s considering moving to Southaven, Olive Branch or somewhere else closer to work at some point, but that wouldn’t happen until two or three years. Bass said he would join her if she did move.

Contact Gerard Edic at 581-7239 or gedic@gwcommonwealth.com.

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