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Business and job disruption from the North Bay fires

Estimated businesses lost and workers unemployed as of Oct. 16.

Lake County: Two businesses, three employees

Mendocino County: 43 businesses, 170 employees

Napa County: 203 businesses, 754 employees

Solano County: two businesses, four employees

Sonoma County: 1,184 businesses, 8,247 employees

Source: EconoVue, workforce analytics, San Francisco




More business coverage of the North Bay fires: nbbj.news/2017fires

Roughly 9,000 employees have lost their jobs in the North Bay due to the recent fires. In times like these, human resources directors are taking extraordinary measures to make sure workers not only have a job, but are safe, have a place to stay, and clothes on their back.

And they are in it for the long haul.

“It will be on-going. It’s going to be a long, slow recovery,” said Lori Zarat, senior vice president of human resources at Exchange Bank.

Out of 400, 22 Exchange Bank employees lost their homes in the fires. Sixty were evacuated, Zarat said.

The company contacted each employee to find out if they were safe, and gave a cash gift to those who lost their homes, to buy clothing and whatever else they needed.

Employees in that situation were also offered interest-free loans. The bank also created a new category for getting paid to take extra time off, called emergency leave.

“The spirit of the business community is seen in companies stepping forward with continued wages. The sense of damage is understood,” said Kelly Hartman, senior vice president, Nelson Staffing, Santa Rosa. “This is such a resilient area. We will bounce back. It will take time, but everyone has banded together and in the next few weeks we’ll see more of that,

Zarat noted that despite the paid leave, employees still came back to work.

“We have people that have been here for 40 years. Everyone cares about each other. They wanted to be together,” she said.

Exchange also created a special social media page where employees could log in and say ‘I’m okay’ or share information on a place to stay or other resources.

“It’s a great hub of communication and emotional support,” Zarat said.

When the Hilton Sonoma Wine Country hotel in Santa Rosa burned to the ground in the Tubbs fire, shortly after it started Oct. 9, Human Resources Director Lenora Olson took her job a step further.

All 130 employees lost their jobs, and some also lost their homes to the fires.

Olson had been on the job for a year and a half, and had hired many of those employees. Feeling like she needed to do something, Olson asked herself what she could do to help them find jobs.

“With other things going on in your life, the last thing you need to happen is to lose your job,” Olson said. “I thought, ‘what can I do?’ I’ve got 25 years experience, with local HR colleagues. I want to help these people. They were my work family.”

Olson posted the situation on Facebook, and within a few days had more than 8,000 views. She has 1,000 emails in her inbox. People from around the country have responded, some with job offers, and even a well-wisher from abroad. She admitted it’s been “chaotic.”

The day after the fires, some employees already had jobs, and as of Oct. 18, 17 had employment. Of those, some were hired with promotions and raises.

“Our supervisor of housekeeping was hired as a manager of housekeeping,” Olson said. “In some cases it’s bittersweet, but maybe their lives will be better.”

A couple of days after the fire, the hotel’s managers contacted their workers by phone to make sure they were safe, and invite them to attend a meeting.

Business and job disruption from the North Bay fires

Estimated businesses lost and workers unemployed as of Oct. 16.

Lake County: Two businesses, three employees

Mendocino County: 43 businesses, 170 employees

Napa County: 203 businesses, 754 employees

Solano County: two businesses, four employees

Sonoma County: 1,184 businesses, 8,247 employees

Source: EconoVue, workforce analytics, San Francisco




More business coverage of the North Bay fires: nbbj.news/2017fires

The Hilton was owned by Atrium Hospitality, headquartered in Georgia.

“They are very forward-thinking and fast on their feet,” Olson said.

About 100 employees made it to the meeting, some bringing family members. They were advised of other job opportunities within the Atrium network, procedures to file for unemployment benefits, how to get emotional support, and support specific to fires.

“It was so good to see everybody’s faces, just grateful people were as unscathed as they were,” Olson said.

Other local hotels looking for workers also showed up at the meeting with applications in hand.

“These are skilled, highly sought after workers. We (hotels) have been stealing each other’s workers for years. Hotels are already understaffed, so it’s a win-win situation,” Olson said.

Other hotels in the area, like the Double Tree in Rohnert Park, and the Holiday Inn in Windsor also reached out with available rooms. Olson has also been supplying workers with references, and has also been helping with payroll, making sure workers are getting paid for their personal time off, and any increases that were scheduled.

Olson and her family suffered no damage from the fires. Her job with Atrium will end later this month. The company offered her another job, but she didn’t want to relocate, and took a position elsewhere.

Nelson’s Hartman was not surprised by Olson and Zarat’s efforts.

“HR directors are so amazing. They dropped everything (during the fires) and reached out to their employees. With no disaster training they were busy helping them file for unemployment, and finding temporary housing,” she said.