Freightliner says Portland plant will close if concessions not met

Union workers at Portland Freightliner Corp. voted this week on whether or not to accept wage and benefits cuts as its parent company, Germany-based DaimlerChrysler, considers closing plants throughout North America.

The outcome of that vote, held Thursday, Oct. 4, was not available prior to presstime.

At a meeting Sept. 28 with union officials, Freightliner executives said Portland's manufacturing and parts plants would be spared this time around if the concession proposal was approved.

Steve Hillesland, assistant directing business representative for Machinists District Lodge 24, told the Northwest Labor Press prior to the vote that if workers don't approve the concessions package "the plant will be closed. Our (Machinists international union) economist looked at their books and they're not kidding."

Four unions represent about 1,200 workers at the Freightliner Class 8 vehicle manufacturing and parts plants on Swan Island. The largest unit is Machinists Lodge 1005, with about 900 members. Also represented are Painters District Council 5, Service Employees Local 49 and Teamsters Local 305.

Freightliner employs 15,800 nationwide, including another 1,800 non-union workers in Portland. The company has proposed pay cuts of $2 to $3 per hour and rescission of its commitment to maintenance of health benefits and bonus pay agreed to in contracts negotiated last July.

All non-union employees took a company-ordered 5 percent pay cut late last month and saw their bonuses scrapped and co-payments implemented for health insurance premiums and prescription drugs.

Freightliner, suffering from declining truck orders and an unprofitable used-truck buyback program, is in the midst of a restructuring plan.

Stark's News Service reported the company expects a $1.2 billion operating loss this year and that nearly one-third of its dealers are on the brink of bankruptcy as a severe downturn in local market demand for its commercial vehicles widened in the wake of terrorist attacks Sept. 11.

Over the last 2 1/2 years Freightliner has laid off more than 1,450 union workers in Portland. Graveyard and swing shifts have been shuttered and truck production is down from 112 a day to under 35. The company already has plans for weeklong shutdowns the week of Oct. 22 and the week of Nov. 19.

Hillesland said the union is not recommending a yes or no vote on the concession package. "We're simply asking people to vote their conscience,"he said. "Is it better to be in the unemployment line saying to yourself, 'I used to make $21 an hour' or be working for $19 an hour?"

What the Freightliner employees voted on was a $2 an hour wage cut (from $21.05 an hour to $19.05; $3 for janitors); cancellation of contractual wage increases due July 1, 2002 and 2003, and annual bonuses of $500 and $1,000; the addition of co-payments for health insurance ranging from $40 a month for a single to $130 a month for three or more; and increases in prescription drug co-payments from $1 to $10 for generic drugs and $15 for name brands.

Freightliner officials from Portland will meet with corporate executives Oct. 9 in Germany.

October 5, 2001 issue

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