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For second straight month, layoffs strike at Daimler’s Cleveland plant

By Josh Bergeron

josh.bergeron@salisburypost.com

CLEVELAND — Daimler on Monday added another helping of hundreds to recent layoffs at its truck manufacturing plant in Rowan County.

The company in a Monday morning town hall meeting told employees that hundreds would be laid off by the end of the week. Employees said they were told about 500 would be laid off by Friday. A Monday afternoon news release upped the total to 550. Combined with another 700 people laid off at the Daimler manufacturing facility in Gaston County, the company will lay off about 1,250 employees.

A news release from Daimler said layoffs in Rowan and Gaston counties are both a result of diminished built rates and a weak truck market.

It’s the second time in as many months that Daimler has announced widespread layoffs in Rowan County. Both rounds of layoffs were for the same reason, according to Daimler.  Early in January, the company announced nearly 1,000 employees would be laid off in Cleveland.

Once in the top three employers in Rowan County, Daimler will now drop below the W.G. Bill Hefner Medical Center with the latest announcement.

In a news release, Daimler said the Cleveland plant would have a single shift of 1,600 people after Friday. Mt. Holly will have two shifts with 1,450 total employees. Just two months ago, the Cleveland plant’s employment was near 3,000.

“One announcement like this is painful, but two within 30 days can knock a county for a loop,” County Commissioners Chairman Greg Edds said in a text message. “We must not let that happen. Good things are happening in Rowan County. This is another example of why we must aggressively pursue good, stable jobs and a more diverse economy for our county’s citizens.”

With both January and Monday’s announcement combined, Daimler’s recent layoff numbers top some of the most significant layoffs in Rowan by the company. In 2013, for example, the company said it would layoff 1,300 production workers.

The latest layoffs don’t affect as many employees, but are much deeper. Monday’s announcement reportedly affects employees who started 14 years ago, in 2002. Laid off workers will receive 60 days of pay instead of 60 days of advanced notice, according to Monday’s announcement.

As of Monday afternoon, however, Daimler had not submitted a notice required by the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act. N.C. Department of Commerce spokesman David Rhoades said he was unable to find a WARN notice with a recent date. The latest notice was from early January, when the initial round of layoffs occurred.

Daimler will also come close to a job minimum set by Rowan County Commissioners in 2015. Commissioners agreed to give Daimler close to $1 million in incentives for an expansion project if, among other things, the company would maintain 1,500 employees.

Rowan Works Economic Development Director Robert Van Geons said he expects the number of employees at Daimler’s Cleveland plant to increase again if the demand for the trucks rises. Citing nationwide layoffs throughout the trucking industry, Van Geons said the problem isn’t isolated to Daimler.

Now, Rowan County’s leaders say they’ll once again provide relief to laid-off Daimler workers.

After January’s announcement, community leaders scrambled to form a task force, organized a job fair and set up resources for laid-off workers through the United Way.

Rowan County United Way Executive Director Bob Lippard said resources for the first round of laid-off employees include: help with uniforms and school supplies through Communities in Schools Rowan; rent, utility assistance and food through the Salvation Army; mortgage assistance through the Salisbury Community Development Corp.; three months worth of membership fees to the YMCA; and various Social Services programs.

Lippard said his agency is prepared to do the same for workers laid off on Monday.

“These are people that are in your church, people that may live in your neighborhood,” he said. “There are people’s lives that will be affected. Then, from another perspective, I know that I can be of help to some degree.”

Van Geons said county leaders were already in the midst of organizing another job fair for the Rowan County community when Monday’s layoff announcement came. The job fair immediately following initial layoffs brought more than 20 companies to West End Plaza.

The upcoming job fair wasn’t specifically being planned for Daimler employees, Van Geons said. However, county leaders will do “everything possible” to help those laid off, he said. He added that agencies are trying to focus on helping the unemployed all throughout the year, not just in instances of mass layoffs.

“If it isn’t Daimler today, it will be someone else tomorrow,” he said. “Yes, we will be working to support those employees, but what we’re trying to do is help those that are unemployment throughout the year.”

Despite the lackluster truck market, Van Geons said Rowan County’s economy is improving and diversifying. Existing employers have job openings, he said.

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.

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