Grocers, trucking firms, food makers among Wine Country businesses hiring during the coronavirus lockdown

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Despite the state facing a million more people out of work in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, some North Bay companies and national locations are beefing up employment to handle the increased demand.

Biagi Bros. Transportation expects to bring on at least 50 more drivers to handle the onslaught of orders from customers seeking supplies.

“It’s been crazy,” Stacey Biagi told the North Bay Business Journal of her family-owned Napa business. “We’re just trying to figure how long this will be going on.”

Biagi has noticed more women answering their recruitment advertisements. They inquire about whether the freight trucks are equipped with an automatic transmission and what vehicles require a Class A license.

“They’re all good questions,” she said. “This is uncharted territory.”

Once workers get hired on with the trucking company that started operation in 1977 and has grown to 22 locations nationwide, it’s important they know “how much we appreciate them.” She and her sister have also established an assembly line for creating lunches that may rival even the most conscientious parents for drivers.

The sweeping changes in the national job market have come suddenly.

Before the impact of the virus slammed the economy, the North Bay had among the state’s lowest unemployment rates. The Journal reported that figures for February – before shutdown of businesses like winery tasting rooms and some hotels – the jobless rate was 2.8% in Sonoma County; 3.9% in Solano and 3.2% in Napa County.

Since then, with uncertainty came layoffs. With that, grocery store shoppers have turned out in droves, buying up household essentials. Keeping shelves stocked has turned into a chronic demand for supermarkets, many of which have also churned out recruitment ads to help out the existing workers who put in a lot of overtime hours.

“In the first wave, the lines were down the aisles,” Nugget Market worker Lauren Decarlo said about her Vacaville store’s experience two weeks ago. The flagship Solano County location shares the call for more help along with its high-end market stores such as Novato, Sonoma, Tiburon and Corte Madera.

She said the pressing need is filling overnight shifts. The store is open from 6 a.m. (to seniors and the immune-compromised on Tuesdays and Thursdays) and 8 a.m. to other demographics. It closes at 10 p.m. This leaves the night crew to fill in the gaps of inventory decimated on the shelves.

“At first, it was a game with our distributors. We didn’t know what we were getting until we’d receive (the items),” Decarlo said. “It seemed like March was going on for three months.”

Adding to the challenges, the company moved its corporate office from Woodland to Davis.

Many North Bay companies have adapted to our changing world.

Petaluma-based Amy’s Kitchen launched a food-delivery service last week through GrubHub and DoorDash as “another great option” for its customer base, spokeswoman Jessica Adkins mentioned.

The family-owned food manufacturer, which started operations in the North Bay in 1987 in the quest for healthy food options, opened its drive-through location in Rohnert Park in 2015. Its San Francisco airport location is temporarily closed, and a Marin County drive-through is being built.

The Petaluma food processor had 43 openings listed Friday, though some were based at its plants in Pocatello, Idaho, and Medford, Oregon. Its Santa Rosa plant has openings for such spots as a warehouse worker, a mechanic, a frozen foods supervisor and a sanitation supervisor. Its headquarters had positions available for accountants and a social media coordinator

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Many positions that are posted on Indeed and LinkedIn job boards as well as on the radio and its own website are deemed entry level that come with training programs.

Whole Foods in Napa plans to hire a few people who were already scheduled to add to the workforce before the pandemic broke out, its manager indicated. The manager chose to be unidentified because his level is not authorized to speak for the company.

Store management shifted some employees from part- to full-time status as well as moving others to different departments to accommodate the current need.

La Tortilla Factory of Santa Rosa has hired 20 new employees over the last two weeks to keep up with the demand for its wide variety of tortillas. The company had been recruiting for open positions even before the pandemic, which kicked its recruiting efforts into overdrive.

“We were actually having a hard time finding people,” said Ana Carreno, human resources director for La Tortilla Factory, told the Press Democrat.

Pleasanton-based Safeway is hiring 30,000 new workers to keep up with demand, spokeswoman Wendy Gutshall said in an email. In Northern California, the company has hired more than 1,800 new employees and offered all front-line workers a temporary $2 hourly raise during the spike in business. Safeway also has partnered with 17 companies to provide part-time jobs to workers who have been furloughed or had their hours cut, Gutshall said.

Increasing workload and concerns about safety have led some workers to demand more from their companies.

Grocery delivery workers for Whole Foods’ parent company in New York, Amazon — a behemoth of online shopping purveyors, as well as Instacart’s nationwide workforce, walked off the job Monday to require more coronavirus protection and pay, National Public Radio reported.

The protests come on the heels of both companies announcing they plan to hire thousands of new workers, as online shopping and grocery home delivery become routing across the United States.

Other companies joining in recruiting new workers include CVS Health, Raley’s, Safeway, Walmart, Trader Joe’s and the U.S. Postal Service.

The Press Democrat and wire services contributed to this report.

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