More Freightliner layoffs announced; workforce will be down to about 800 after this round of cutbacks

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 1, 2009

By Mark Wineka
Freightliner announced plans Friday for another hefty layoff of employees at its truck manufacturing plant in Cleveland.
The company said it would lay off 420 workers effective May 8, cutting into the remaining first-shift workforce. Union officials and employees received notification during the day Friday.
The cutbacks affect employees in the truck plant and its associated pre-delivery inspection facility. After the May workforce reductions, the Cleveland operation will have about 800 employees, the company said.
An additional 80 employees at Freightliner’s Gastonia Components and Logistics Plant also will be displaced May 8.
Daimler Trucks North America, parent of Freightliner, said “deteriorating economic and market conditions and further significant decline in new truck orders are leading to the newly announced reductions.”
Corporate Communications spokesperson Amy Sills added in a statement Friday:
“All DTNA manufacturing plants in the U.S. and Mexico continue to be affected by the industry downturn and are implementing workforce reductions or schedule adjustments to accommodate sharply reduced production plans.”
The news comes during the same week Daimler Trucks North America opened a $300 million, 1,414-employee truck manufacturing plant in Saltillo, Mexico.
The new Mexican plant will make the Freightliner Cascadia, the primary truck manufactured at the Cleveland plant. It is the second Daimler Trucks plant in Mexico.
Next Friday, the layoffs of 1,290 Cleveland plant workers will take effect as the facility eliminates its second shift.
Last June, the company laid off 1,500 workers in Cleveland, before calling back about 650 employees in August and reinstating a “partial second shift.” Those callbacks were possible because of some increases in customer orders of the Cascadia.
But that has been followed by a sharp decline in truck orders, leading the company to announce the March 13 layoffs of 2,327 production line and shop positions in four Freightliner manufacturing plants, including three in North Carolina.
In April 2007, Freightliner eliminated the Cleveland plant’s third shift by laying off 1,180 workers.
The Cleveland plant was once Rowan County’s largest employer.
The recent decline in business for Freightliner affects other support companies such as Auto Truck Transport, which announced in January that it would lay off up to 150 employees effective March 16.
The company provides delivery services for the trucks built in Cleveland.
Debbie Davis, head of the Employment Security Commission’s JobLink Center in Salisbury, said with extended unemployment, trade and training benefits, displaced Freightliner workers may qualify for at least a year of benefits.
Her office has begun scheduling appointments with Freightliner workers to help them apply for trade benefits to which they’ll probably be entitled.
Employees have blamed the North American Free Trade Act for sending their jobs to the Mexican plants, and they’ve also reported that the company is offering 10 percent discounts on trucks made at the newest plant in Saltillo.
Workers who asked not to be identified say contrary to the company’s statements, the Cleveland plant is becoming a secondary or “overflow” plant, not the primary manufacturing facility for the Cascadia.
The N.C. Department of Commerce’s Division of Workforce Development reports that since July 1, 2008, through Wednesday, some 49 companies had announced layoffs and 62 others had notified the state that they were closing.
Those Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act notices have affected 17,640 employees. The latest Freightliner announcements are not yet included in that total.