Entering the lobby of Washington Fruit & Produce Company’s beautiful, open, and light-filled headquarters, I’m greeted by a friendly receptionist who directs me to the Human Resource office. There I’m welcomed by Olivia Martinez, Washington Fruit’s HR Specialist. She guides me to a large conference room where I interview her for over an hour and it quickly becomes apparent that Washington Fruit made the right decision in hiring this vivacious and bright young woman.
For most of Olivia’s life her family has resided in Selah. Growing up she lived right across from Selah High School. “I was a good student, and maybe a bit rambunctious,” she recalled with a laugh. Her favorite subjects were science and language; however, her mom thought she should take advantage of Running Start’s Beauty School program so she would graduate with a license to work in an established profession. After finishing her training, she realized that the beauty field was not her passion and found herself sampling a number of entry level jobs.
After several years, she longed for a more challenging job and a long-term career. Her father, Antonio Martinez, has been employed as an orchard foreman for Washington Fruit for many years, and Olivia finally decided to ask him if his employer had any openings. Fortunately for Olivia, they had some entry level positions in the main office and she was hired.
According to Washington Fruit’s website, “In 1916 Fred B. Plath incorporated Washington Fruit to grow, pack and ship high quality fruit. The company has marketed apples, pears, and cherries under the independent label for over a century.” Olivia probably didn’t realize that she’d applied for a job at one of the oldest fruit companies in the Northwest. Fortunately, the company recognized her potential and hired her to work with invoice sales vouchers and as a backup front desk person. Early on she became impressed that the Company’s owners were very friendly and involved in the business. Her bosses always emphasized the importance of the front desk job because these employees are the first people a prospective customer meets when arriving at headquarters. “That’s why Washington Fruit is always keen on looking for the best receptionists,” Olivia explained.
She worked in this capacity for three and a half years before an opening came up for a human resource specialist. “I wanted to get a shot at something different and more challenging,” she said. Happily, her previous job performance set her apart from the rest of the applicants and she landed the job. The head of Human Resources was Teresa Pritchard and she said, “HR is not about telling people what to do. It’s about partnering with people at all levels for the best outcomes. Olivia has proven to be a partner and as a result, has earned people’s respect.”
Hiring for the warehouse crew takes up a major part of Olivia’s job. “We hire upwards of 15-45 people during the summer for cherries and during the fall once the crop harvest starts and that is just for the general labor positions,” Olivia said. Over the year the jobs vary from forklift drivers, gardeners, system operators, receiving, shipping, etc. “We go through waves of hiring depending on the season,” she added. In a good year the HR department may hire from 375 to 460 workers.
During the hiring season Olivia can find herself juggling a variety of tasks. After posting employment ads, seeking candidates, and conducting phone interviews, she must evaluate each applicant. If they do well on the phone, she schedules them to attend an orientation, prior to starting the job.
Olivia has become very organized and task-focused. A typical day finds her attentive to any incoming emails throughout the day. If something is pending from the prior day she makes sure to complete it and tries to leave nothing unfinished. Time management and task management are essential to keeping on top of her multifaceted job. Besides hiring, she oversees employee attendance, maintains unemployment claims and arranges crew lists and employee scheduling. Her duties also encompass disciplinary actions, translation and terminations.
Her parents immigrated from Mexico many years ago, and she’s discovered that her ability to speak fluent Spanish has become a huge asset in her work, especially when she’s at the forefront of problems with the crew. She works closely with the head of HR when problems arise and action is needed to solve them. “In HR it’s not good enough to have a pedantic knowledge of the profession. It also takes a keen insight into people. I think Oliva is good at her job because she has that natural instinct. She knows how to read people!” Teresa said.
“I feel so comfortable at Washington Fruit,” Olivia said. When asked what the best part of her job is, she said, “I feel that because my day is never the same, I am continually growing and learning.” She and her co-workers handle the needs and requests of more than 400 employees. “In my three years of experience, I am constantly reminded of the many different lives, effects, abilities and inabilities others have and live with, which humbles me. It makes me much more intuitive to my perception of life.”
When not working, Olivia lives on a farm and loves hanging out with her 6-year-old son Maxwell. And as if her day job wasn’t enough, Olivia also earned her masseuse license and practices on a part-time basis.
Besides her son, Olivia feels her parents have given her a great deal of encouragement. Although her father was strict and unwavering, he strived to instill his code of ethics in his children. On the other hand, her mother, Raquel, was a gentle, encouraging force in Olivia’s young life. “Growing up and to this day my mother has always been that strong, guiding voice. She’s always spoken to us (my brother and I) with love, honesty and patience.”
Working in this highly diverse and challenging job has opened a new world of opportunities for this ambitious young woman, and for others in her family, too. Her cousin has been hired as an HR department assistant and her brother works in the orchard with her father, learning to become a foreman.
Although Olivia Martinez is quick to admit, “My son and work are my life!” It’s also clear that she’s become a valued employee of one of Yakima’s oldest fruit companies, and Washington Fruit has found a smart and dedicated employee in Olivia Martinez.