The timber giant received a $ 5 million PPP loan; it cannot find enough employees

At a time when many companies are struggling to keep their employees on the payroll, one of the state’s largest wood product manufacturers is not finding enough employees to work at full capacity.

While Oregon unemployment is near record levels, Lyon’s Freres Lumber is trying to recruit 100 workers to return to full capacity after a number of workers quit in the past few months.

Prior to the March COVID-19 pandemic, Freres Lumber had around 475 employees; now it’s under 400.

“We lost one shift in our veneer plant and one shift in our plywood plant,” said Rob Freres, President of Freres Lumber. “People don’t show up, probably out of fear of the COVID thing. We were really, really understaffed. We run 60%. “

Current vacancies – Freres Lumber Co., Inc.

Freres Lumber was approved for a $ 5 million PPP loan on April 27, and Freres said the company will spend all of this on payroll.

Despite an Oregon unemployment rate of 11.2% in June, the company has been hiring since the downturn.

The almost 100-year-old manufacturer of wood products had to close in the first week of May as orders slowed with the closure of the state and there was no more space to store the plywood and other products it made.

But it kept its employees on the payroll.

Freres Lumber spent about $ 10,000 installing partitions to protect workers from the spread of COVID-19.

That week the company was closed and three workers contracted COVID-19.

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While some manufacturing companies have struggled with outbreaks of employees infected with COVID-19, Freres said the three employees who contracted the coronavirus have been quarantined for payment.

“They caught this when they weren’t here,” said Freres. “You wouldn’t have got it if we hadn’t closed for a week.”

Freres Lumber has provided PPE and cleaning supplies, mandated social distancing by marking the separation, discouraged the use of canteens, installed Plexiglas barriers, closed offices to the public and increased the cleaning of public areas by third parties.

Many of the workers at Freres Lumbers' Mass Plywood Plant have been able to create social distance thanks to technologies such as robots and cranes.

Kyle Freres, vice president of operations at Freres Lumber, said the company paid to keep employees at home while uncomfortable, encouraged them to maintain social distance while away from work, and informs about their cases and informs colleagues about possible exposures.

“Nobody wants to get sick and nobody wants to spread disease to others,” said Kyle Freres. “We all know that COVID transmissions in the workplace can affect the health of friends, family and colleagues.

“We are an important industry that has weathered the pandemic and we wanted to be as safe as possible while ensuring the livelihood of our employees and our company.”

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Although Freres Lumber is based in its multiple Lyon factories, most of its employees are drawn from the cities of Salem, Keizer, Turner, Aumsville, Stayton, Mill City and Detroit, which are on the Highway 22 corridor, many of which are more severely affected than the Linn district town with 1,200 inhabitants.

Although employees come from areas severely affected by the coronavirus, only three employees have contracted the virus.

Rob Freres said the company is hiring skilled positions including civil engineers, CNC operators, electricians and truck drivers, and unskilled workers.

“We’re going to help with schooling and it doesn’t have to be directly work-related right now,” said Rob Freres.

To apply, go to Positions pay between $ 13.85 and $ 25 an hour.

Bill Poehler reports on Marion County for the Statesman Journal. Contact him at [email protected] or

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