Several hundred jobless people waited on a warm Tuesday morning for a chance to help process summer's bounty.
Del Monte Foods took applications in downtown Modesto for seasonal production workers and forklift operators at its massive fruit cannery on Yosemite Boulevard.
"We're just trying to get hold of a job because times are really hard," said Ricardo Cervantes, 57, of Modesto, who was nearing the front of the line after two hours.
Del Monte is not disclosing how many jobs are open, but it will have about 1,500 seasonal workers in Modesto this year, same as last, said Serena Li, a spokeswoman at corporate headquarters in San Francisco.
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The applications were taken at the 12th Street office of the California Employment Development Department office. Its manager, Jesse Villa, said he was told that about 300 of the applicants would be interviewed soon for production jobs and about 40 for forklift jobs, but he did not know the number of openings.
The forklift work pays $16.94 to $18.37 an hour. The production wages are $9.37 to $16.94.
The work typically goes from July through September, although longer for some people. The canning will start with apricots, then reach peak volume with peaches before ending with the pear crop.
A line started forming outside the EDD office around dawn and reached a quarter of the way around the block at 11 a.m.
Cervantes said he has completed truck driving school but cannot find work in that field because he has no experience. He used to work at one of the canneries owned by Tri Valley Growers, which filed for bankruptcy a decade ago, a move that downsized the Modesto area's canning industry.
Luis Peral, 45, of Empire also worked for Tri Valley, where he gained skill in operating a forklift quickly but safely.
"When you have experience, it's easier," he said of his chances of landing a job at Del Monte.
Canneries long have been important sources of jobs in the area, offering fairly good pay, often with overtime, despite the short season.
Del Monte's call for workers comes amid an economic downturn that started with the housing collapse in late 2006 and has spread to retail, restaurants and other sectors. Stanislaus County's jobless rate stood at 17.3 percent last month, down from 18.3 percent in April thanks to upticks in agriculture, construction and a few other job categories.
Eric Olson, 33, of Modesto lost his plumbing job to the recession and found himself in the line for work at Del Monte.
"I'm willing to do whatever they want," he said. "A job's a job right now, but it's humbling when you can't do your trade."
Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at 578-2385 or email@example.com