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Int’l eyes costs, jobs

CHATHAM, Ont. - International's Chatham Assembly Plant employees are feeling the squeeze of a down economy and need to find $28 million in savings or face possible closure.In early December, the appro...


CHATHAM, Ont. – International’s Chatham Assembly Plant employees are feeling the squeeze of a down economy and need to find $28 million in savings or face possible closure.

In early December, the approximately 1,100 employees received shocking news when Steven Keate, president of Truck Group International Truck and Engine Corp., out of Chicago, visited the plant to relay the importance of cutting operating costs. They were told, “If savings can’t be met, the plant could certainly close.

“Today’s economy is impacting International’s Truck Group significantly. No dramatic improvements are expected in 2002,” explains Keate in a letter sent to Chatham employees outlining International’s position.

Gretchen Rosswurm, manager of communications for International’s Truck Group says the company is really feeling the heat.

“The organization is looking at how we can be healthy and not lose money in a downed market,” she says.

Other manufacturing plants operated by International in the U.S. and Mexico have also been told to cut costs.

“None of our (seven) plants have an identical task. The Chatham situation is unique from a plant in Garland, Tex. as opposed to Springfield, Ohio,” says Rosswurm. “Having said that, all of our facilities, as well as all of our functions within our truck business, are challenged to reduce their costs. How that will surface itself will depend on the businesses.”

She says the problem isn’t unique to International.

“We have competitors who are closing plants and who have laid off many employees.”

Although the Chatham plant has been operating at a substantial loss, Rosswurm reports overall, International is performing much better than in the past, and stresses it will continue to improve.

“In 2002, we must take drastic actions to reduce our costs so that in the future the Truck Group doesn’t lose money in down markets. This is called reducing the break-even point,” explains Keate.

In 2001, the Chatham plant’s schedule had been reduced twice, explains Rosswurm. “From a truck-manufacturing standpoint, the industry is at the lowest point it has been in a long time,” she says.

Plant manager Dave Boland says the morale in the workplace is one of uncertainty.

“People are anxious and trying to understand where we’re at, whether or not the task at hand is doable.”

Boland says approximately 35 positions at the plant have already been terminated since the announcement made early in December.

“We’re just taking it job-by-job and going through and doing it. It’s basically the same as other large companies have done,” says Boland. “Just look at all your costs and structures and see what you can do.”

He says the plant needs to have a solid plan that will show significant savings to keep the company a profitable one by spring.

“It doesn’t mean we have to have the money saved by spring. All we’re trying to do now is work out a plan that says can we or can’t we get there.”

Union chairman of local 127 Doug Deneau had no comment to offer on the situation at press time.

“The papers beat us up bad enough in December and until we come up with some solutions, we’re trying to keep things in house,” he says.

Even with a bleak outlook, Boland believes the Chatham plant team will prevail. “I really think if we work together we can do it, but it’s going to take all of us. It’s not something that I can do myself, it’s not something that any individual can do by themselves. It’s going to have to be all of us working together towards the same goal.”


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