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Harry & David to hire fewer temps

Harry & David has been a source of seasonal employment for people wanting to earn extra money for Christmas for decades.

This year, with unemployment cresting above 13 percent in Jackson County, applications for the holiday season jobs at the Medford gourmet food and gift giant have grown by nearly 20 percent.

"We have a larger pool, which gives us more flexibility," says Tony Retiz, senior manager of talent management at Harry & David, who oversees recruitment and staffing. "We're able to be more selective because we have higher-caliber applicants with better skills and better work history."

These aren't the best of times for Harry & David. The corporate accounts that once accounted for thousands of holiday orders have dwindled and gift-giving clients have whittled their Christmas lists as well.

As a result, Harry & David has cut back on everything from the number of pears it picks to the amount of candy it makes. That means fewer people are needed for a shorter duration this year. "We have jobs," Retiz says. "But way fewer than in the past. We're in a somewhat unique position: Where we've hired in the 7,200 to 7,400 range in the past, this year we may get to a little less than 5,000."

Job types range from order-takers in the call center to packaging and shipping. Those who are hired can expect a shorter employment period as the company seeks to regain profitability.

"Our hiring season in the past would have gone from May or June through the end of November, and folks working through December," Retiz says. "This year, it's in a much more condensed time. We began hiring at the end of August and, depending on the location, will go through mid-December."

So far, Harry & David's human resources staff has processed 6,600 applications — 1,000 more than last year. Many of the job-seekers come from Josephine, Klamath and Siskiyou counties.

"This year, we're seeing more folks coming in from Grants Pass and Klamath Falls," Retiz says. "I'm thinking there aren't as many job options and opportunities in those areas. A lot of these individuals are just looking for any kind of job. Some have had what you would consider skilled jobs."

There were fewer than 500 orchard workers during fall harvest, Retiz says, down from about 550 in 2008. With orchard, packing and bakery hiring completed, the focus now is on call center operations, which will continue into December.

Most of Harry & David's seasonal jobs are entry-level positions paying $8.40.

"Individuals who have been with us several seasons will have their pay increased," he says, with experienced veterans who have worked into leadership positions earning $9 or more. "Some of the jobs in the packing house are incentive jobs where there are folks who make $12-plus. It's similar in the orchards where they can make $12 or higher."

Harry & David also operates a call center in Eugene, where it expects to hire between 900 and 1,000 temporary workers, down from the approximately 1,200 in 2008.

Employment figures for the company's Hebron, Ohio, call center and shipping facility were not available.

In addition to providing the opportunity for extra Christmas cash for local residents, the temporary Harry & David jobs have helped other generations get through lean times.

Linda Wells, who worked in order-entry during the height of the mail-order days, recalls that in the recessionary days of the late 1970s and early 1980s many of her co-workers had day jobs and then reported for swing and graveyard shifts.

"People that worked at banks or other jobs came in for a 6-to-10 shift — just for the extra money," Wells recalls. "We had quite a crew that came in 6-10; others worked graveyard."

Wells worked 33 years with the company before retiring in 2005. She suspects some of the seasonal hires in the packing house were out-of-work wood products employees. Many of those timber jobs have long since disappeared, but employees in other sectors suffering similar woes are taking advantage of the temporary work — even if there is less of that work than in some years.

"You drive by the parking lot today and there's just not as many cars," she says.

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 776-4463 or e-mail business@mailtribune.com.

Harry & David is filling temporary jobs in preparation for filling holiday orders for everything from its truffles, pictured, to its world-renowned Rogue Valley pears. - Mail Tribune file photo