Rowan plans relief for laid-off Freightliner employees

Published 12:05 am Wednesday, January 6, 2016

County leaders are rallying community support to help jobless workers following the most significant mass layoff since 2009.

A number of community agencies on Monday rapidly formed a task force after news broke of mass layoffs at Daimler’s manufacturing plant in Cleveland. The task force met Tuesday and announced later-than-usual college admission deadlines, a job fair later this month and other resources for the nearly 1,000 people who lost jobs at the plant.

Daimler’s plant in Cleveland, which makes Freightliner trucks, attributed its mass layoffs to a sustained reduction in orders.

The layoffs came as Rowan County entered 2016 with hopes of improving a slowly strengthening economy. County leaders said the mass layoff was unexpected.

For Rowan County, Daimler’s announcement is the largest since 2009, when the same plant laid off nearly 1,300 employees.

“The loss of a job is up there with the death of a loved one or divorce,” said Craig Lamb, a vice president at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College. ” We’ve got more than 900 people going through that experience right now. … It’s tragic, but it’s not going to be a tragedy.”

Lamb said the community college will help by accepting applications from former Freighliner employees this week. The college will expedite an application process that would normally be closed, Lamb said. Classes start Jan. 11.

For employees who can’t return to school, a major focus for the task force will be helping jobless workers find employment. The group is planning a job fair specifically for the former Freightliner employees at West End Plaza, said county commissioners Chairman Greg Edds and Rowan Works Economic Development Director Robert Van Geons. The tentative date for the job fair is 9 a.m. to noon on Jan. 22.

Jobless Rowan residents previously employed at Freightliner present a different type of unemployment than others, according to task force members. Many of the former employees were hired recently and are trained for manufacturing jobs.

“It’s what we call frictional unemployment,” Lamb said. “People are out there with skills.”

Rowan County Chamber of Commerce Director Elaine Spalding said local businesses have jobs available.

“It’s just a matter of matching them up,” Spalding said.

The search for open jobs began quickly after Daimler announced layoffs. Spalding sent an email to chamber members asking about the number of open jobs. The email also began soliciting participation in the Jan. 22 job fair.

Salisbury Post Publisher Greg Anderson said the newspaper will offer free job wanted advertisements in print and online to all laid off Freightliner employees. Anderson said the newspaper has previously offered the service. The ads will be aimed at helping employers find those searching for a job.

Rowan United Way Executive Director Bob Lippard said the task force’s rapid response represents a unique, resilient characteristic of Rowan County. His organization recently wrapped up its annual campaign. Freightliner is a participant in the campaign. In some instances, contributors to the campaign could be recipients of the United Way’s work.

In past instances, Lippard said, the United Way has worked with its partner agencies to provide free, short-term YMCA memberships. The Salvation Army has also provided rent and utility assistance, he said.

Lippard said he’ll talk with member agencies to determine what the United Way might be able to provide.

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.