Freightliner jobs a sign of recovery, officials say

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 12, 2012

By Mark Wineka
CLEVELAND — Corporate and government officials hail the return of a second shift and ramped-up production at the Freightliner Truck Manufacturing Plant as evidence of an economy on the rebound.
“The ripple effect in the local economy will be seen,” Roger Nielsen, chief operating officer for Daimler Trucks North America, said at press conference this morning when he confirmed that the Cleveland truck plant will be adding 1,100 new jobs by the end of 2012.
In addition, Daimler is adding 100 jobs at its Components and Logistics Plant in Gastonia.
“That’s big news, my friends,” Gov. Bev Perdue told a crowd assembled on the manufacturing floor of the plant.
The majority of positions on the reestablished second shift will be filled with recalled workers who were laid off in 2009. The recalls will begin in early February, maybe earlier, and the new shift is scheduled to be at full strength by September.
“This extra shift, to me, is the most optimistic news,” Perdue said. N.C. Department of Commerce Secretary Keith Crisco also was on hand.
Nielsen said the past couple of years have been tough for the laid-off employees, their families, the Cleveland plant and the industry as a whole. To the workers in particular, he said, “We welcome your return to Freightliner.”
First-shift employees left their spots on the plant floor and crowded in a semi-circle around the makeshift stage and an audience of 75 to 100 government officials, community leaders and media. They responded with applause at several junctures during the morning’s proceedings.
The Cleveland plant, known mostly for its Freightliner Cascadia trucks, is expected to double production by October. Demand has created back orders of six months for the Cascadia, the company said.
Nielsen said nearly 20 percent of the trucks made at the Cleveland plant, which also produces the Columbia and Argosy lines, are sold through Daimler subsidiaries to markets in South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.
“These overseas markets absolutely love our trucks,” Nielsen said.
The Cleveland plant is the largest Freightliner truck manufacturing facility in the country.
Its current employment stands at approximately 1,400 shop employees and 72 engineers, managers and office staff.
The new shift will represent a 72 percent increase in personnel, of which 1,072 will be shop employees and the rest engineering and support positions.
“You have an economy that’s recovering, even though the naysayers say it’s not,” said Gary Casteel, Region 8 director for the United Auto Workers Union, which has a strong membership at the Cleveland plant.
Casteel said the trucking industry is usually a leading economic indicator for the United States. “We think this is good news for all the economy,” he said.
Thursday’s press conference announcing the return of the second shift in Cleveland never would have occurred without the policies of President Obama’s administration, Casteel added.
While it’s not necessarily the end of the recession, Nielsen said, Daimler is proud to be leading the economy back into increased productivity. He boasted that the Cascadia truck made in Cleveland is the most innovative, fuel-efficient and comfortable Class 8, on-highway truck in the market, and he also touted the performance of its Detroit-brand engines.
As evidence of the ripple effect Freightliner’s rebound will have, Nielsen mentioned some of the suppliers who are connected to the Cleveland plant, such as DuPont (paint colors), Magna Composites (plastics) of Salisbury, ConMet (lightweight aluminum components) of Monroe, Commercial Vehicle Group (interiors) of Statesville and Michelin tires of Greenville, S.C.
Perdue said she was optimistic about an economy she described as making improvements day by day. She praised Daimler for its strong footprint in North Carolina. The company provides paychecks for 4,800 families in the state, she said.
“These are good jobs,” Perdue added.
Thursday’s announcement displays again how many N.C. jobs are still tied to making things and how “this section of North Carolina is robust for manufacturing,” Perdue said.
Thomas Built Buses in High Point, a part of Daimler Trucks North America, will be producing all school buses in North Carolina, thanks to its winning the most recent contract.
Corey Hill, president of  UAW Local 3520, said he expected the Cleveland plant to  produce up to 140 trucks a day by the end of 2012. The Cleveland plant has been experiencing a steady increase in production for much of 2011, he added.
The contract to make military trucks at the plant helped immensely in 2010, Hill said, and he touted the union’s “Buy America” campaign for increasing trucking company orders in the United States.
“We build a good quality truck here,” he said.
The company provided tours through the plant later Thursday morning.
Parts of the plant are highly automated, with 87 robots in the pre-paint cab area, for example. To build strength in the cabs, it’s a laminating process of “metal, on metal, on metal,” one tour guide explained.
The pre-paint cab area is producing about 65 cabs a day, in a building designed for up to 90 a day. Some unpainted cabs are being shipped to Freightliner’s production facility in Mexico.
On Thursday, the two assembly lines were putting together trucks for Old Dominion, National, Schneider and U.S. Express.
At current production levels, one cab is coming off the final assembly line about every 10 minutes.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.
Daimler’s online job listings are available at