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Freightliner may ax second shift Employee says at meeting they were told more than 700 could be laid off

CLEVELAND — More than 700 people could lose their jobs at the Freightliner plant in Cleveland, meaning the end of the second shift that state officials touted a year ago, according to an employee.
The plant manager told workers Tuesday that Daimler Trucks North America, the parent company of Freightliner, is preparing to lay off 715 people on April 1 and end the second shift, said the employee, who attended the meeting and spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution.
“They told us that as it stands, we were going to be laid off April 1 but that is subject to order intake,” the employee said.
If orders for heavy-duty trucks improve, the layoffs may be avoided, plant officials said, according to the employee.
“They will shut down the second shift,” the employee said. “They are talking like it’s going to happen.”
Daimler confirmed Tuesday that it is warning workers of a “potential layoff” across its manufacturing sites.
A spokesman for Portland, Ore.-based Daimler would not provide specifics, including the number of people who could be laid off. The company is expected to release more information today as it complies with federal reporting standards.
The company on Tuesday said it was “in the process of notifying production workers across DTNA’s North American manufacturing facilities of a potential layoff in compliance with the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act.”
Robert Van Geons, executive director for RowanWorks Economic Development Commission, said he’s talked to Daimler officials about the potential layoff but doesn’t know specifics.
“Daimler’s concerns about the economy in the shorter term only underlines how fragile this economic recovery really is,” Van Geons said.
He said the company is concerned about a slowdown in orders and must notify workers now of a potential layoff “should they have to make a decision to change their headcount in March or April.”
“This does not mean they are laying off anyone,” he said. “They are committed to their operations in the Carolinas. This is a function of demand and the economy.”
Daimler officials said if things pick up and the slowdown they fear does not occur, there will be no layoff, Van Geons said.
The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act requires employers to notify the state when they plan to lay off more than 500 workers or a third of their workforce. No notice was listed on the state Commerce Department website on Wednesday.
Daimler has plants in Cleveland, Gastonia and Mount Holly. Daimler is the fourth largest employer in Rowan County, behind the school system, Food Lion and VA Medical Center.
With about 2,100 employees, Daimler is the top manufacturing employer in the county by far. Magna Composites comes in second with about 480 workers.
Cleveland Mayor John Steele said he’s concerned. A layoff would not hurt the town’s industrial tax base but could be devastating for residents, he said.
“Freightliner, they pay their taxes, and that will happen anyway,” Steele said. “The main thing we are concerned about is the people of Cleveland and the west Rowan area.”
Steele said he was a little surprised that Daimler is considering a layoff so soon after the hoopla surrounding the announcement in January 2012 that the company would hire 1,100 workers and bring back the second shift.
“I remember when Gov. Perdue and everyone were up here and how excited we all were,” Steele said.
Ramped-up production was supposed to provide work for all Freightliner employees laid off in 2008 who wanted a job but only half of the promised jobs materialized.
Roughly 550 workers were recalled. The plant stopped hiring before 173 people on the recall list were rehired.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.

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