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Freightliner lays off 2,137 workers in Rowan, Gaston counties

The head of Daimler-Chrysler North American Trucks has been sounding a pessimistic tune for a while. "Cuts in consumer spending due to rising prices as well as decreasing home values and a growing concern about unemployment could cause further weaknesses as the year progresses," he said last March at the Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville, Ky. Of course, the economy in 2008 turned out to be much worse than most expected. As a result, the job losses at Freightliner cut especially deep. Gary Castelle heads the United Auto Workers union's regional headquarters. "It's all volume-related. It's a direct result of the economy we're in. There's not anything confusing or convoluted about it. They just don't need the trucks that they've been producing over there," Castelle says. "It was a lot quicker than we expect. This is like the hatchet falling, but the demand has fallen off that quick, too." Castelle says Freightliner workers typically earn in the low to mid-40s, plus health and retirement benefits. Freightliner is laying off 1,290 workers at its Cleveland plant in Rowan County. The second shift will be idled. Another 572 will be laid off at Freightliner's plant in Mount Holly, where all shifts will be idled. And 275 workers are losing their jobs at the company's parts plant in Gastonia, which serves the Mount Holly and Cleveland facilities. All of the layoffs take effect March 13th. In a prepared statement, CEO Chris Patterson said "we look forward to returning to normal production operations when business conditions stabilize." The UAW's Castelle hopes President-elect Obama's economic stimulus package helps Freightliner turn around sooner than expected, since it emphasizes public infrastructure projects. "That's got to have a good impact on heavy equipment and heavy trucks," he says.