By Josh Magill
Sean Cantu’s smile lit up the enormous warehouse as he helped present Trillium’s “Top Employer of the Year” award on Wednesday afternoon to the employees of IKEA’s distribution center in Frederickson. The honors were accepted by Pam Andrews, general manager of the IKEA facility.
Trillium is an organization committed to the training of workers with disabilities and is based in western Washington.
Cantu, with the help of Trillium, began working at the IKEA distribution center more than a year ago and said he loves his job.
“I like to be visual and do things with my hands,” said Cantu. “It keeps me out of trouble. I have my regular family and I have a work family here. It’s fun!”
Cantu manages the garbage and recyclables throughout the warehouse. He also helps handle any product that arrives damaged by correcting the issue or removing the item based on internal guidelines.
“It’s really great to work with Sean,” said Andrews. “I’m really pleased with this award because we value how he works for us. I enjoy him. He smiles every day and overcomes many challenges every day to do his job.”
During a tour of the facility for some employees of Trillium and members of the Frederickson Business Connections (FBC) group after the presentation, IKEA Human Resource Manager, Letty Steward, shared the importance of Cantu’s position.
“Sean has a very important job here,” says Steward. “We recycle 99.6 percent of the trash that comes out of this facility, whether it is cardboard, plastic or even Styrofoam.”
Cantu explained that his job has helped him become somewhat of a better recycler at home, but it is more fun to get paid to do it for IKEA. The notion gave the tour group a bit of a chuckle, with many shaking their heads in agreement.
Trillium employee consultant and member of the FBC, Bryan Ruff, was just as excited to show folks around the facility.
“Any time we have a new staff member, [IKEA] is the first place I bring them,” said Ruff. “This is one of the best environments for anyone to work in. It’s like a family here, that Sean has become a big part of.”
Ruff pointed out the “golden ticket” program where employees are awarded in different ways for finding a gold piece of paper next to something that needs corrected, such as trash removal or a safety issue. Cantu explained that the program was a lot of fun because sometimes the golden ticket is right in front of you and hard to recognize, but they are always found by someone. And, yes, he has found some himself.
Steward shared the history of the 646,000 square-foot distribution center with the crowd, saying it is one of only eight in the United States and was opened in September of 2008 on 65 acres in the Frederickson Industrial Area – an extension of the Port of Tacoma, in unincorporated Pierce County. The 2008 opening ceremony was attended by Governor Chris Gregoire and other local officials and expected to employ nearly 125 area residents. Currently, the facility employs nearly 110 and has the option to expand to one million square-feet.
Steward and Cantu led the tour past rows of tall racking that held pallets of product ready to be shipped to nine different store locations across the western United States and Canada, but will soon take on a tenth store. She explained the facility is divided into three sections, with two normal racking sections on each end, as well as the outside docking doors with multiple designations like: inbound, outbound, transit, and cross-dock.
Yet, it was the so-called “silo” in the middle section of the facility that drew the most questions from the crowd.
The “silo” is a 10-story high, fully automated, contraption that moves pallets around to specific racking locations across a span larger than a football field. The top cannot be seen when looking upward in to the darkness of the “silo.” Steward explained that few had ever seen the apparatus lit up, but that it was important to make sure pallets entered cleanly because if something were to “snag or jam” the moving parts it is a dangerous job to correct, especially if it is up high.
Prior to ending the tour, Steward pointed out the “Tack Board” on the wall explaining that co-workers can fill out “thank you” cards and tack them up for others to read. Most cards are regarding help they received from a fellow employee or ways they see their co-workers benefit the company.
“Oh, look!” exclaimed Steward. “There is one here for Sean.”
Cantu, still smiling, read the card aloud for the crowd from his co-worker, Priscilla, regarding a recent product repair.
But it was Andrews who summed up the mood and goals of all involved on this day.
“I’m proud to be working for IKEA,” said Andrews. “To be part of something that gives everybody an opportunity to work hard like Sean. And to work with people like Trillium, who share our values, makes coming to work so much more fun.”
© 2012 Josh Magill