Thursday, February 5, 2009

Peterbilt in Madison to stay shut until 2010

Already shut down due to a labor dispute with the United Auto Workers union, the Peterbilt truck factory in Madison will remain that way at least until the end of the year because of slow sales, the company said Wednesday.

"We're temporarily closing the Nashville facility due to market conditions," plant manager Larry Vessels said. "We do expect trucks to be built here again, but we don't know when that might be."

He said sales of the large, over-the-road trucks like those made at the plant are down 70 percent from where they were two years ago.

Peterbilt's Denton, Texas, plant, which remains open, can handle demand for now, Vessels said. It is a non-union plant.

Locked out since June

Trucks have not been produced in Madison since the company locked out its 313 hourly workers represented by UAW Local 1832 on June 30. That came after the union declined to vote on a new contract offer submitted by Peterbilt. The previous five-year contract expired June 26.

No negotiations have taken place with union representatives since August.

Earlier this week, Local 1832 President Mike Pardue received a letter from Peterbilt informing the UAW that the plant would remain closed "for at least the next six months," he said. The six months language is outlined in labor law as the minimum time frame that workers must be notified about when work is stopped.

"The letter said they were temporarily suspending production," he said. "Our members are dumbfounded, and they have a lot of questions I can't answer."

The company's announcement now that the shutdown will last until year end means that even if the workers approve Peterbilt's latest contract offer made in June, they won't go back to work right away.

Pardue said some of the workers have found other jobs but the rest were either waiting to go back to Peterbilt or looking for other work.

"The job market's not very good right now," Pardue said.

Because the workers had no contract when the plant was shut down, they get no compensation or benefits from Peterbilt while they are locked out, Pardue said. They collect unemployment benefits from the state of Tennessee, and when that runs out, will be eligible to receive $200 a week from the UAW.

The Madison plant opened in 1969.

Texas-based Peterbilt is a subsidiary of PACCAR Inc., which also makes Kenworth trucks.

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