Wild Wild Williston: Part III

My hometown of Williston, ND, is definitely in its own little bubble. The entire state of North Dakota pretty much is, but Williston and other boom towns are a breed of their own.

I haven’t lived in Williston for an extended period of time since the summer of 2009. A lot was changing even then in the steadily growing oil town, but it wasn’t even close to approaching the radical changes it’s undergone in the years since then. Changes that have gained national attention, happening right in my “boring” backyard. (If you haven’t checked out Part I and Part II, there’s some more information about Williston there.)

Williston High School's gymnasium, the Phil Jackson Field House (Williston is his hometown, too). Brings back memories of high school dances, basketball games, and graduation.

As a senior in high school in 2008, after working my way up the “corporate” ladder for the past three years at the local Subway restaurant, I was finally making $10.25 an hour as a supervisor slinging sandwiches. (Yay alliteration!) When I tell my friends this, even friends from North Dakota, they’re usually pretty amazed I got that kind of pay working at a Subway restaurant. (And, I’ll admit, I miss it a lot.)

But things are even vastly different since then. My 16 year-old brother just got his first job this summer working on an asphalt crew. The team consists mostly of females, because all the older guys who would normally be working construction are working on the oil rigs. His starting wage is $15 an hour. I’ve never made that much in my life, and I’m jealous. When I first went into sandwich slavery, I was making a mere $5.50 an hour, and happy with it.

But why do manual labor for 16 hours a day under the hot sun for $15 an hour when you could work in a fast food restaurant for the same wages?

This ad was in Williston's local classified newspaper, "The Shopper," the last week in May.

And the $10.25 an hour at Subway that I’d worked through blood, sweat, and tears for? Yeah.


But that’s what employers need to do to entice help in Williston — A place where there are tons of jobs, tons of people, no place to put them all, and very little for them to do recreationally.  After all, if you or your significant other could be making more than people with college degrees, especially in this economy, why wouldn’t you?

Exactly. Which is why a lot of people from all across the country are doing that.

But finding employees is only half the battle for non-oilfield employers in Williston. Keeping good employees is a big problem, too. People leave jobs in a heartbeat with no warning in favor of better opportunities … or sometimes just in favor of sitting at home. All the restaurants and stores are so busy there, keeping up with the demand gets to be a lot for anyone. (It was even crazy when I worked at Subway before the peak of the oil boom — Our restaurant was considered a “high-volume” store among other Subways nationwide.) For this reason, some employers are taking steps to nip that situation in the bud:

This ad was in last week's issue of "The Shopper." The good part is kind of small in this screenshot, but it says, "Do not apply if you're always sick, late, untrustworthy, can't work weekends, lazy, not dependable, or you complain about everything!"

Housing in Williston, when available, is priced in relation to the competitive wages. I think it’s kind of a chicken and egg situation, but whether the housing prices are in response to the amount people are getting paid, or the amount people getting paid is compensating for the rise in housing prices, they’re definitely both high. Like, you could rent an apartment in New York City for the price of apartments in Williston.

Granted, a lot of apartments in town are certainly much more affordable, they’re definitely more expensive than they used to be, and more difficult to come by.

I was glad to see, though, that while I was perusing The Shopper, some things haven’t changed.

Well, I guess I don’t know if I can say “glad.” The camouflage tux was always something my dates threatened me with during prom season.


12 thoughts on “Wild Wild Williston: Part III

  1. great article..hope you are making more now..lol..have a question..we just moved here from florida..where do the teens hang out? my son is 15 and as we drive through town..have yet to see teenagers

  2. I’m glad you wrote this. I’m considering temporarily moving up there to make some quick money in a few months and return to Denver. Maybe a quesiton for your brother who lives there, but is it realistic for a 26 year old woman with a master’s in psych to make more than 3000/month up there? If not, forget about the cold!

  3. Pingback: Where is the love? Right here! | A Nice Ring to It

  4. Pingback: Where is the love? Right here! « A Nice Ring to It

  5. Hi Kaitlin,

    Since adding the comment above I thought your readers might like to know what your hourly rate would be in a catering or similar job here in Scotland and the UK in general.

    You are only likely to get the ‘minimum wage’ which is a government set figure over here, which is currently:

    16 – 17 years of age £3.64 ($5.87)
    18 – 20 years of age £4.92 ($7.93)
    21 years of age and over £5.93 ($9.56)

    Say hi to your brother for me, I don’t think there is any chance he is likely to look for a summer job over here any time soon.


    • That’s really interesting! Wow, that’s a fraction of what he’s making … and for my age range, I’m making a lot less. Haha wow sad. Thanks for your readership, I always love to hear your feedback!

  6. Had no idea about the boom status of North Dakota. Sounds like another gold rush but without the wagon trains. I confess to having to look up Williston on google maps. I am sure there will always be an opening for you at Subway when you graduate.

  7. I worked 14 hours and made $210 dollars today, that’s why! (And I like being outside and manual labor, is that a crime? :p) The lowly workers at Taco Johns get starting pay of $15 dollars an hour for the lunch shift (that’s only two hours a day) or the graveyard shift (3 hours a day) otherwise they’re back at 10 for every other shift. (Admittedly still good, but in comparison I don’t feel that’s such a sweet gig) THAT is why I work hard manual labor in 95 degree weather with 95% humidity (feels like 115!) That and the fact that my boss is the coolest man in the world, keeps us on the clock when we’re driving all over the state, pays for any and all foodstuffs, and if necessary, covers hotel expenses. (He writes it all off as business expenses anyway, so why not?)
    Anyways, it’s pretty awesome to be making 15 bucks an hour. I never would’ve guessed I’d be making that in high school, but I guess anything can happen in Williston now; it’s a crazy place. I’m gonna be really bummed when I’ll have to quit working and start football at the end of this month. I’m starting to reconsider doing far worse manual labor for no pay at all. Love of the game and Coyote pride I guess!

  8. Yiekes, my first job I was making six something an hour and I thought I was the best thing out there. I want your brother’s life!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s