YOSEMITE -- Dozens of foreign workers arrived weeks late for seasonal jobs at Yosemite National Park last spring, throwing operations into chaos. This year, the company that does the hiring is looking closer to home.
Foreign workers also have become harder to recruit because of changes in visa rules. So the firm is recruiting much more heavily in the San Joaquin Valley and finding workers who didn't even know jobs were available at the national park.
Officials with Delaware North Cos. Parks & Resorts at Yosemite Inc. said they probably could have found more local workers to fill the jobs before, but they didn't try hard enough.
"We were not being smart in the type of outreach we wanted to conduct," said Kenny Karst, spokesman for the company, which operates retail stores, motels and other amenities at Yosemite.
Delaware North has hired a recruiter and stepped up its appearances at job fairs and trade shows. Company officials have appeared on Spanish-language television shows to get the word out about jobs.
Delaware North says it has spent $230,000 on those efforts.
The firm has hired 88 valley residents and expects to use 29 fewer international workers than last year, when it gave jobs to 183. In addition, 300 full-time jobs are open.
The number of foreign workers could decline more in years to come as Delaware North seeks to turn seasonal positions into year-round jobs, Karst said.
Among the new workers is Delilah Haro of Modesto, who was hired in November as a housekeeper at the Ahwahnee Hotel.
Haro, 20, said she didn't know of jobs at the park until her father heard about it at a job fair. Then she and her sister got jobs.
"The first day, I got lost. I thought I was stuck in the woods but I found my way," Haro said. "I like it now. I will stay here for a while."
That's the kind of commitment Delaware North officials said they are looking for after what happened last year.
The company had expected more than 100 workers by April from Ecuador, Thailand, Ukraine and Mexico, but they didn't arrive until June, said Laura Chastain, Delaware North re- cruitment manager.
Everybody grab a pillowcase
The result was a lot of hard work for people who didn't expect it during the first part of the peak season, which runs from late March to October.
"Everyone was making beds," Chastain said. "We had people from HR and the accounting office making beds."
Yosemite also had to delay the opening of food and beverage operations, she said.
"It was rough," Chastain said.
The new approach to hiring also could help solve another problem. It has become more difficult for seasonal workers to return to the United States, because a rule that helped them do so has expired.
Returning overseas workers no longer are exempt from the annual visa cap of 66,000, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
In general, employers are supposed to try to fill jobs with local workers before recruiting from overseas, said Sharon Rummery, spokeswoman for U.S. Citizenship and Immi- gration Services.
About a quarter of the company's seasonal workers have been foreigners, Chastain said. The number of seasonal jobs varies, but last year it was 600, she said.
It's unclear why the foreign workers arrived late last season. Steve Royster, spokesman of consular affairs at the State Department, said there were delays in processing visas from Mexico last year but didn't know whether that occurred in other countries. Royster said he doesn't know of delays this year.
Entry-level jobs pay the minimum wage of $8, but employees can live at a dorm for $19 a week. They also can get three meals a day, seven days a week, for $45. In addition, workers get medical insurance, paid vacation and paid sick days.
Rachel Tejeda of Fresno began as an office assistant four years ago at the Ahwahnee Hotel but moved up the ladder. She now is the rooms division manager, a position that can pay $50,000 to $60,000 a year.
"There's several things that keep me here," she said. "It's the people. The hotel. And the friends I call family."