WENATCHEE, Wash. — A total of 747 people applied for cherry sorting and packing jobs at Stemilt Growers’ 10th annual job fair at the Wenatchee Convention Center on May 5.
That was down from 960 a year ago but still enough to cover the 650 the company needs and provide a reserve for turnover, said Zach Williams, Stemilt’s director of human resources.
The Wenatchee-based company is the largest packer and shipper of fresh sweet cherries in the nation. It packed 3.4 million, 20-pound boxes of red cherries in 2012, the year of the Pacific Northwest’s record 22.9-million-box crop. Stemilt also packed 785,000 boxes in California that year.
With a lighter PNW crop of 14.2 million boxes last year, Stemilt packed 1.7 million, 18-pound boxes of red cherries and 900,000 in California, said Brianna Shales, Stemilt’s communications manager.
This year’s crop could be another big one.
Stemilt has built a second high-tech sorting and sizing packing line for cherries in its Euclid Avenue plant in Olds Station just north of Wenatchee.
About 60 percent of the company’s Washington cherries will go through the high-tech lines, Shales said. The rest will be sorted and packed at the company’s Olds Station plant and only Rainier at its Miller Street plant in Wenatchee, she said.
While the new high-tech lines don’t need as many sorters, Stemilt will hire close to the same number as last year because fewer workers will be switched over to cherries from apples because of the volume of apples from last fall yet to pack, Williams said.
The 650, plus 450 invited back from last year and 700 to 800 switched over from apples makes for 1,700 to 1,800 to run the three cherry plants on double shifts during the height of the season, he said.
Wenatchee WorkSource, the local office of the state Employment Security Department, gave out 1,450 application forms prior to the job fair, Williams said.
About 500 people applied in the first hour.
The process went faster this year because interviews were eliminated, Williams said. Necessary questions were asked on application forms and applicants were told they would be notified in a week whether they are hired, he said. Actual hiring and orientation will be another week after that with the first sorting and packing in early June, he said.
With no interviews, the company considered dropping the fair altogether and having people submit applications in other ways. It was continued, he said, because it’s a good way to receive a lot of applications quickly and generates interest for people to apply.
Justin Giles, 32, East Wenatchee, was among hundreds of people who waited for the fair to open in the early afternoon in a line that extended along two sides of the Wenatchee Convention Center.
“Stemilt’s a good company to work for,” he said. “I’ve done this the last three seasons.”