Volvo slashes 650 jobs

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DUBLIN — Volvo North America Trucks has announced it is laying off 650 workers at its truck manufacturing plant near Dublin.

The company will eliminate 40 percent of the plant’s remaining work force, beginning in March and effective by the end of April, according to an announcement issued Tuesday morning.

“We are reducing our production capacity in alignment with declining demand,” spokesman Jim McNamara said. “These layoffs are considered permanent.”

The plant employs several workers from the Twin Counties, but it is unknown how many will be affected.

Volvo's action is not a surprise because the heavy-duty truck business is running on fumes. U.S. sales of heavy trucks made by all manufacturers fell in 2008 for the second consecutive year, reaching the lowest level since 1992, Today'sTrucking.Com reported Tuesday, quoting data from Ward's Automotive.

U.S. retail sales of class 8 trucks, the kind the Volvo plant makes, fell nearly 12 percent in 2008 to 133,473 vehicles, the site said.

Lester Hancock, president of United Auto Workers Local 2069, said the job announcement "should wake up a lot of American people to be really, really serious about how bad the American economy is."

Hancock said the Swedish truckmaker intends to gear down production from 77 to 50 trucks a weekday and go forward with a portion of the planned 650 layoffs March 27. Depending on circumstances, it may cut deeper if needed in April.

Jobs will be cut based on seniority. Randy Collins, an assembly worker with 15 years of seniority, said he thinks he'll lose his job if Volvo lets all 650 go. He said the plant's white-collar work force should be proportionately reduced, but hasn't been.

The plant, which employed 3,225 people after the announcement of expansion plans in 1999, could fall to fewer than 1,000 employees if all the cuts go through. Hancock said employment has never been below 1,000 in the 21 years he's worked there. The company had already announced three, mandatory one-week furloughs for each month of the first quarter.

Workers who are permanently laid off will receive union-negotiated supplemental pay and health benefits, Hancock said, in addition to state unemployment benefits.

Virginia Employment Commission official Nelda Clark said she saw scant chance of the laid-off workers finding equally high-paying jobs in the region.

With a couple of exceptions, "employers at this time are not hiring," Clark said. "The prospects are fairly bleak for obtaining comparable employment."