With fires spreading around the North Bay, some businesses with temporary workers suddenly had a dilemma: They didn’t have a way to reach those employees and tell them not to risk coming on site.
The team at Sonoma-based staffing and recruiting firm Nelson rallied to make sure those businesses’ messages reached workers and kept them out of danger, even as the Nelson team itself grappled with some of its local offices closing due to the flames.
“We had to call so many people and tell them to not go to work,” said Kelley Hartman, senior vice president of Nelson Staffing. “It was almost like our whole Petaluma office became this call center to reach each and every one of our employees to check on their safety.”
The North Bay fires have burned more than 3,000 homes, offices and other structures and left more than 30 people dead.
Hartman works out of Nelson’s Santa Rosa office, which closed Monday because of the fast-moving fires and didn’t get power back until late Thursday evening. Nelson’s Fairfield, Napa and Sonoma offices remain closed. Throughout the week, the company’s branches in the Bay Area pulled together to make sure clients were connected to the employees they have through Nelson — and that those employees at least have continuity in their paychecks amid the devastation of the fires.
“Our payroll department, they were on evacuation notice while they were still issuing checks for employees,” Hartman said.
Nelson handles payroll for thousands of people all over California, said Jim Geist, regional vice president of Nelson & Associates. That includes more than 700 in the North Bay.
“In a situation like this, we don’t want to have a disruption to their income,” he said.
The past week has shown how quickly the business community can come together in times of disaster. Nelson’s clients — which span the hospitality sector, engineering, technology, legal work, administrative roles, and more — weren’t just calling for help checking on worker’s safety and making sure they were paid on time.
Businesses affected by the fires also started calling “almost immediately” for help placing their workers in other jobs, Geist said.
There are likely to be challenges ahead for businesses, though, with the number of people displaced from their homes in a labor market where it was already difficult to find talent.
“There is no question that there is going to be a massive disruption to the labor force here in North Bay,” Geist said.
The area’s tight housing markets may also mean some of those needing new homes choose to relocate altogether.
“It is going to make it even more difficult for companies to find talent and to grow,” Geist said.
But Geist and Hartman both strike optimistic notes about how the region is pulling together. Businesses are already re-opening and people are getting back to work, Hartman said.
“I do believe our community will come together and find some solution,” Hartman said. “It is a beautiful place to live. People are not going to want to leave here.”