Daimler Trucks to lay off 250 union workers at Swan Island plant

Daimler Trucks North America will lay off 250 union production workers at its Swan Island truck plant March 1, part of a 1,300-worker downsizing throughout North America “due to the present softening of economic conditions.”

The layoffs do not impact managers, supervisors, engineers, and support staff, or nearly 2,000 nonunion white-collar workers at Daimler’s Portland headquarters, said Joe Kear, business representative of Machinists Lodge 1005.

The Portland manufacturer of heavy-duty Western Star trucks currently has a unionized workforce of 930.

Hardest hit by the layoffs is Machinists Lodge 1005, which will lose 180 members. Teamsters Local 305 will lose 44 members; Sign Painters and Paint Makers Local 1094 will lose 25 members; and Service Employees Local 49 will lose four members. For the Machinists Union, that means all employees hired on or after June 1, 2011, will be laid off. For Painters Local 1094, all employees hired on or after Sept. 6, 1994, will be laid off. All Teamsters Local 305 employees hired on or after Nov. 14, 2011 will be laid off. And all Service Employees Local 49 members hired on or after Feb. 23, 1998, will be laid off. Workers will have four years of call-back rights.

Labor’s Community Service Agency and Worksystems Inc. are meeting with impacted  workers to assist with career counseling and other support services. Kear told the Labor Press that Daimler Trucks North America also will file a petition for federal Trade Adjustment Assistance.

In October 2011, Freightliner announced with great fanfare that it would hire 350 shop workers in 2012. At the time, it had a unionized workforce of approximately 700.

“Orders were up, they had a backlog, and they anticipated orders would keep going up. But those orders never materialized,” Kear said.

The expanded workforce eventually caught up with the backlog, and because new orders were slow coming in, Daimler in 2012 imposed temporary shutdowns, furloughing workers for one, two, and three days at a time. The last three-day shutdown was in late January.

After the March 1 layoffs, the plant will go from two shifts producing 34 trucks a day, to one shift producing 26 trucks a day. Half-a-dozen shop floor managers and supervisors from swing shift will be reassigned to day shift.

The union workers are in the final months of a three-year contract that expires June 28. Bargaining for a new contract will begin in a few months.

Daimler (formerly Freightliner) actually was preparing to close the Swan Island manufacturing plant in October 2008. But after learning that it would incur substantial “legacy” costs to its union workers if it closed, the German-owned company rescinded the planned closure with the proviso that the unions agree to wage and benefit concessions, which they did.

Wages at the truck plant have been frozen for four years, Kear said.

Daimler notified North Carolina state officials that, effective April 1, it plans to lay off 715 employees at its truck plant in Cleveland, 405 workers at its plant in Mount Holly, and 80 people at its Components and Logistics business in Gastonia. The company is in the process of building a 311,000-square-foot warehouse to support the parts plant in Gastonia. The $25 million facility is slated for completion in August.

Production workers in North Carolina are members of the United Auto Workers.

Daimler also operates a huge nonunion manufacturing plant in Saltillo, Mexico. There was no announcement of any layoffs there.

Daimler said in a statement that it resorted to the layoffs “due to the present softening of economic conditions that has adversely impacted the entire North American commercial vehicle industry.” The cuts, it said, will “synchronize current production rates to incoming orders.”

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