Sunday, June 18, 2006

The truck stops here: Drivers in high demand at Northern Refrigerated Transportation

By Liz Garone
Special to Sunday Jobs

When Northern Refrigerated Transportation, Inc. opened its doors in 1947, the company had a single truck and delivered one product: 10-gallon cans of milk. Today, it is one of the largest refrigerated, for hire, trucking companies on the West Coast with some 200 trucks, a sister company, and a lot more chilled and frozen goods to be transported.

"We haul anything from yogurt and candy all the way to frozen lobster," says Ron Werner, human relations manager for Northern Refrigerated Transportation and its sister company, Poppy State Express, Inc. Between the two companies, anywhere from 3.5 to 5 million pounds of goods are hauled each day.

While Northern Refrigerated covers California, Oregon, and Washington, Poppy State covers California, Nevada, and Arizona. California has the most customers and most routes. "For both companies, the bread and butter is California," Werner says. Customers include such big names as Dannon, Hershey's, Nestle, Best Foods, says Werner, as well as small grocery chains and mom-and-pop operations.

Over the last five years, the two companies have seen 20 percent growth on an annual basis, Werner says . With that growth has come the need for more drivers. "We are always looking for drivers for all of our locations," he says.

In addition to headquarters in Turlock, the sister companies have terminals in Fresno, the City of Commerce in Southern California, and Portland, Oregon. For drivers, the pay and benefits are the same at both companies. "The only differences the drivers see is a different color uniform, a different color truck, and a different color paycheck," says Werner.

Northern Refrigerated and Poppy State Express are hiring both local and line drivers. Local drivers are paid hourly and, on average, make $40,000. "They sleep in their own beds every night," explains Werner. This compares to line drivers who often travel overnight and cover much longer distances. "They are paid higher as a result of that," Werner says. While the average for line drivers is $55,000, some make as much as $80,000. Their pay is based on a percentage of gross revenue.

While the companies prefer experienced drivers, they are also open to hiring competent drivers fresh out of driving school. "We're looking for professional drivers rather than just someone who drives from one warehouse to another," Werner says. "We are looking for people who can communicate with our customers, because they do come in regular contact with them."

All drivers go through a training period, which can last anywhere from two weeks for the most experienced drivers to a month or more for those who are new to the industry. During that time, the new recruits ride along with company trainers, "our top drivers," Werner says. "The trainers train, evaluate, and provide progress reports on our new drivers."

In addition to salaries that are above the industry standard, drivers can make bonuses for bringing on new drivers. The companies also offer safety programs with rewards that can include trips to Hawaii for drivers and their spouses. Benefits include medical, dental and vision for full-time employees and their families, life insurance, a comprehensive retirement program and vacation.

There are two ways to apply for driver positions with Northern Refrigerated and Poppy State. You can head down to the Turlock office at 2700 West Main Street, which is open Monday through Friday. The other option is to call Jeff Smith, the company recruiter, at (800) 692-5874, extension 2008.

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