Freightliner announces layoffs in Oregon, North Carolina

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Freightliner announced Friday, Jan. 26, that it will lay off 800 of its 1,700 union workers in Portland, Ore., and stop making Freightliner-branded trucks in the city, The Oregonian newspaper reported. The company will retrofit its Swan Island plant to make only military vehicles and Western Star-brand trucks, according to the newspaper.

Freightliner on Friday also announced layoffs of as many as 1,180 workers at its Cleveland, N.C., truck plant and 260 at its Gaston, N.C., parts plant. The truck maker already had announced that it would lay off 800 at its truck plant in St. Thomas, Ontario.

Freightliner said the job eliminations were necessary because buyers have been hesitant to purchase trucks equipped with new and expensive technology to curb diesel exhaust emissions. New standards governing diesel emissions in the United States and Canada took effect Jan. 1.

Freightliner plans to reduce truck production in Portland from 74 a day to 28 a day beginning March 30 – the day the layoffs take effect, The Oregonian reported. In a statement, the company said it expects demand for all of its trucks to return later this year, when it might begin rehiring. The company, however, cautioned that worker recalls depend on market recovery.

Freightliner has been building trucks on Swan Island since 1947, but in recent years it has been scaling back its manufacturing presence in Portland. Joe Kear, business agent with the Machinist District Lodge 24, told The Oregonian that the company plans to remove robots dedicated to the Freightliner line in the plant, so it seems unlikely that the company would restart production in Oregon.

Freightliner bought Western Star seven years ago and moved its production from Canada to Portland in 2003, but many of the lines suppliers and customers remain in Canada, according to The Oregonian.