News for those who live, work and play in the Santiam Canyon

Freres starts employee vanpools

Freres Engineered Wood, the largest employer in the Santiam Canyon, is setting up a commuter vanpool system to help employees get to its Mill City and Lyons plants from Salem and Albany.

Freres has approximately 450 employees and Teri Butler, company human resources manager told The Canyon Weekly that 68 of its Lyons employees and 42 of its Mill City workers live in the Salem area. There are others in the Albany area, Butler said, but it is hard to get precise numbers on how many because those who work in that area also are grouped with those who live in nearby Lebanon.

Freres has received a grant from Cherriots, the public transit system in Salem, and will be teaming up with Commute Enterprise, a ride-sharing program that is part of the Enterprise car rental company. No start date has been established for the service. Freres still is working to discover how many employees might be interested in using the vanpools.

Freres officials say their funds and the grant will be used to pay for the program in its entirety for the first three months. For the next three months employees would pay 50% of the cost of the service and the company plans to reassess the situation in six months.

The goal is simple, Freres officials said. Company President Rob Freres told The Canyon Weekly last summer that one of biggest recruiting and retention challenges the company faces is convincing employees to drive from the Salem area to the Canyon.

Freres noted the huge Amazon warehouses in Salem and Woodburn that are hiring workers in the thousands. His company, he says, is at a hiring disadvantage because folks in the valley have to drive 50 to 60 miles a day to the Freres plants in personal vehicles, burning up chunks  of their wages on gas and car and truck maintenance.

At that time, Freres said the company had 80 or so unfilled positions. Butler says it is closer to 50-55 today, with “our hope that [the vanpools] support our current employees, while also promoting this benefit to potential employees in our recruiting efforts.”

Butler said Freres is looking at perhaps ten to 15 vanpool groupings.

“It will be determined,” she said, “by how many employees choose to participate.”

Commute Enterprise, she said, has a number of options for vehicles, from SUVs and cars to vans that can accommodate up to 15 passengers. The minimum required for a vanpool is four people and the maximum is 15.

“Of course the larger the vanpool group, the less expensive it is for each employee,” Butler said.

“Start times and end times will be determined by the individual vanpool,” Butler said.  “Our presentations have [encouraged] those that live near each other and work some of the same shifts to discuss and make decisions for themselves.

“We cannot guarantee that all those, for example, that work a graveyard shift, have a large enough vanpool to accommodate the schedule and location of the worksites. But I believe we should have enough vanpools for employees to choose from that should accommodate them.”

“They may determine that the group lives close enough to each other to just pick them up at their houses, or they may choose a “park and ride” spot or parking lot for the drivers to drive to.”

The vanpools can make stops along the way at places such as Stayton and Turner, she said.

“We also have enough people who live in the Stayton, Aumsville, Turner area for a few individual vanpools, too,” Butler said.

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