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Mack Trucks laying off 305 workers at Macungie Township plant

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Mack trucks laying off 305 workers at macungie township plant
A Mack Trucks spokesperson said the company operates in a cyclical market and after two years of extremely high volumes there has been reduced market demands. Sales of Mack Trucks in October have fallen far below the monthly average for 2019. (Courtesy: MACK TRUCKS)

MACUNGIE, Pa. — Mack Trucks plans to lay off 305 employees at its assembly plant north of Philadelphia, the company said Wednesday.

Mack blamed the layoffs at its Lower Macungie Township plant on a downturn in the heavy-duty truck market. They will take effect at the end of February, The Morning Call of Allentown reported. The cuts represent about 13% of the plant’s payroll.

“We regret having to take this action, but we operate in a cyclical market, and after two years of extremely high volumes, we have to adapt to reduced market demand,” said Mack spokesman Christopher Heffner.

Employees, most of whom belong to the auto workers union, were informed of the news Wednesday.

The cuts were expected after Mack said last month that it would need to slow production to cope with reduced demand. Mack expects the North American truck market to be down nearly 30% this year

Heffner said outplacement support meetings will be provided for all affected employees, who also will receive information about services available through the Private Industry Council and Pennsylvania CareerLink.

United Auto Workers Local 677, which represents most of the plant’s employees, did not immediately comment.

But the planned layoff was expected, after Mack informed employees in December that it would need to adjust the plant’s build rate to align with reduced demand. The last significant layoff at the Mack plant came in early 2016, when the company laid off about 400 of the facility’s then-1,850 workers as demand slowed.

Through November of 2019, sales of Mack Trucks in the United States had totaled 18,127, an increase of 14.8% over sales of 15,793 during the first 11 months of 2018, according to data provided by Wards Intelligence.

But sales in October and November were 1,224 and 1,185, respectively, well below the average monthly sales of 1,647 during 2019.

The announcement about the layoffs came some three months after almost 3,600 United Auto Workers members walked off the job for the first time in 35 years on October 12 at six Mack facilities in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Florida.

According to the official news release on the UAW’s website, the strike is to protest unfair pay, compensation and benefits for workers and their families.

“UAW members get up every day and put in long, hard hours of work from designing to building Mack trucks,” said Ray Curry, secretary-treasurer of the UAW and director of the heavy truck department, in the official statement when the workers went on strike. “UAW members carry on their shoulders the profits of Mack and they are simply asking for dignity, fair pay and job protections.”

Two months later, Mack Trucks announced that members of the United Auto Workers union ratified a new four-year collective bargaining agreement with the company that covers the union employees.

 

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Early morning crash on Pennsylvania Turnpike leaves 5 dead, 60 injured

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Early morning crash on pennsylvania turnpike leaves 5 dead, 60 injured
The Sunday morning accident on the Pennsylvania Turnpike was said to have been a “chain reaction” following a bus losing control and rolling over. (Courtesy: FOX29 PHILADELPHIA)

MOUNT PLEASANT, Pa. ­– A crash on the Pennsylvania Turnpike early Sunday morning has left five people dead and about 60 injured when a loaded bus went out of control on a hill and rolled over. According to published reports, this incident set off a chain reaction that involved three tractor-trailers and a passenger car.

WTAE in Pittsburgh reports that all five victims killed have been identified by the Westmoreland County coroner. Among them are the bus driver, Shuang Qing Feng, 58, of Flushing, New York and two bus passengers, Eileen Zelis Aria, 35, of Bronx, New York and Jaremy Vazquez, a 9-year-old girl from Brooklyn, New York.

Two UPS drivers – Daniel Kepner, 53, and Dennis Kehler, 48 – were among the people who died in the crash, the company confirmed Sunday night. Both were driving together in a tractor-trailer out of Harrisburg, Pa., according to a UPS spokeswoman.

Those injured ranged in age from 7 to 67. All are all expected to survive, though two patients remain in critical condition, authorities and hospital officials said Sunday afternoon. The crash, which happened at 3:40 a.m. on Sunday on a mountainous and rural stretch of the interstate about 30 miles east of Pittsburgh, shut down the highway in both directions before it reopened Sunday evening.

The tour bus, operated by a New Jersey-based company called Z & D Tours, was traveling from Rockaway, New Jersey, to Cincinnati, Ohio, Pennsylvania State Police spokesman Stephen Limani said.

He said the bus was traveling downhill on a curve, careened up an embankment and rolled over. Two tractor-trailers then struck the bus. A third tractor-trailer then crashed into those trucks. A passenger car was also involved in the pile-up.

“I haven’t personally witnessed a crash of this magnitude in 20 years,” Pennsylvania Turnpike spokesman Carl DeFebo told WTAE, calling it the worst accident in his decades-long tenure with the turnpike.

Reports from local media state that the victims included students and people returning from visiting family in New York City. Many traveling on the bus were from outside the United States, Limani said, some of whom do not speak English and who lost their luggage and passports in the wreckage.

Limani said the Red Cross was working with those patients to find housing and resources. Authorities brought in translators to assist with the investigation and medical treatment, and to help victims reconnect with loved ones.

Exactly what caused the crash remains unknown, and Limani said it could take weeks or months to determine. The National Transportation Safety Board announced Sunday that it dispatched a team of more than a dozen to investigate.

Officials said it was too early to determine if weather was a factor in the crash, but there were eyewitness reports of precipitation in the area.

Angela Maynard, a tractor-trailer driver from Kentucky, said the roads were wet from snow but not especially icy. Maynard was traveling eastbound on the turnpike when she came upon the crash site and called 911.

“It was horrible,” she told The Tribune-Review. She saw lots of smoke but no fire. She and her co-driver found one person trapped in their truck and another lying on the ground.

More than 90 miles of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, from Stanton to Breezewood, remained closed in the westbound direction. Local fire and emergency medical crews are on scene, along with a hazardous material company cleaning up fuel and other materials.

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California owner-operators granted temporary reprieve from AB5

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Senators offer bill to limit heavy truck speeds to 65 mph
California owner-operators will be exempt from enforcement of AB5 law pending a January 13 hearing. (The Trucker file photo)

SACRAMENTO — Owner-operators and the carriers who contract with them received a reprieve late on December 31 when U.S. District Court Judge Robert Benitez issued a temporary restraining order preventing California from enforcing the state’s Assembly Bill 5 (AB5) law in respect to motor carriers.  The law had been scheduled to go into effect just hours after the order was issued.

AB5, intended to protect employers from classifying employees as independent contractors for the employers’ benefit, was challenged by the California Trucking Association (CTA) in a November lawsuit in which the association claimed 70,000 owner-operators in the trucking industry would be adversely impacted should the law be enforced. Specifically, the lawsuit claimed the state law directly conflicted with the FMCSA, the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act of 1994 and the supremacy and commerce clauses of the U.S. Constitution.

AB5 included provisions for an “ABC test” to determine whether an individual would be classified as an independent contractor or an employee of a company. The “B” test prohibited companies from using independent contractors unless the worker performed work “outside the usual course of the hiring entity’s business.” In other words, AB5 would prohibit a trucking company that employs drivers from contracting with independent owner-operators as contracted individuals would perform the same type of work as the company’s regular employees.

On December 24, CTA filed for the temporary restraining order, intended to prevent California from enforcing AB5 as related to motor carriers operating in the state. The original lawsuit is scheduled for a hearing on January 13.

In granting the temporary restraining order, Judge Benitez issued a five-page decision in which he wrote that CTA had suitably satisfied the requirements of arguing its original lawsuit was “likely to succeed on the merits” and plaintiffs would be “likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of relief.” Several lawsuits had been filed against AB5 from various sectors of the transportation industry, leaving in question whether the law would be enforceable in the form approved by the California legislature and signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in September.

In the leadup to initiation of AB5, in late 2019, carriers began reducing contracting activities with owner-operators.  Some carriers had ceased all work through independent drivers, while others recommended California-based owner-operators move out-of-state or take on the status of company employees.

Benitez noted in his decision, “Without significantly transforming their operations to treat independent contractor drivers as employees…they face the risk of governmental enforcement actions, as well as criminal and civil penalties.”

Judge Benitez will also hear CTA’s case for a longer injunction Monday, January 13, in his courtroom in the Southern District of California. Defendants in the lawsuit include California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and The International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which has intervened in the case. For two weeks, independent truck drivers in California are protected from the state’s enforcement of AB5 in their industry. Whether an additional extension is granted is dependent on Judge Benitez’s ruling, expected shortly after the January 13 hearing.

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House passes United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement by 385-41 vote

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Ata president calls for real funding for infrastructure, not gimmickry
Upon passage of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement American Trucking Associations President and CEO Chris Spear said that during one of the most "politically contentious times in our history, USMCA is proof that Washington isn’t completely broken."

WASHINGTON — One day after impeaching President Donald Trump, the Democratic-led House passed one of his signature priorities, a rewrite of the 25-year-old free trade agreement he blames for shipping U.S. manufacturing jobs to Mexico.

A bill implementing terms of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement passed 385-41 Thursday with bipartisan support after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her colleagues won key concessions from an administration anxious to pass the trade deal before next year’s election season makes that task more difficult.

The agreement is projected to have only a modest impact on the economy. But it gives lawmakers from both parties the chance to support an agreement sought by farmers, ranchers and business owners anxious to move past the months of trade tensions that have complicated spending and hiring decisions.

The American Trucking Associations hailed the passage.

“Even during one of the most politically contentious times in our history, USMCA is proof that Washington isn’t completely broken,” said ATA President and CEO Chris Spear. “Bipartisanship — and perhaps more notably, a sense of duty — still lives. Speaker Pelosi and President Trump deserve equal praise for finding the common ground to see this important trade deal through for the good of our country.

“By the nature of our work, truckers know the significance of this victory. Cross-border trade with our neighbors has become a cornerstone of the American economy. Strengthening this relationship as USMCA does helps secure our economy’s foundation and ensures we will remain competitive in the global marketplace for decades to come.

“This vote signifies that good policy need not be a zero-sum political game. Even in today’s Washington, good things can still get done together. That spells hope for the American people.”

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association also supports the implementation of the USMCA. The negotiated USMCA deal creates a thorough review process to identify and remove Mexico-based carriers and operators that pose material economic harm to American truckers.

“For far too long, we have seen our members suffer from foreign companies taking away jobs and profits from drivers in the U.S.,” said Todd Spencer, OOIDA president. “This will hopefully prevent Mexico-domiciled carriers that are exploiting our laws from operating on U.S. highways, which has significantly lowered wages for American drivers across numerous segments of trucking.”

Trump made tearing up the North American Free Trade Agreement a hallmark of his presidential run in 2016 as he tried to win over working-class voters in states such as Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. The vote offers evidence that he followed through.

“We wouldn’t even be discussing USMCA if it were not for President Trump,” said Rep. Jason Smith, R-Mo. “You can’t debate that.”

Until the vote, it was unclear how many Democrats will vote for the bill. Some said the agreement still doesn’t do enough to prevent U.S. jobs from relocating to Mexico, but it has won praise from Democrats who have routinely voted against prior trade agreements.

“I’ll probably get some flak from some of my friends back in Chicago,” said Rep. Danny Davis, D-Ill. “But I’m going to vote for this agreement because I believe that it moves us forward.”

The House Ways and Means Committee advanced the bill by voice vote Tuesday. If the House passes it as expected, the Senate will likely take it up when its members return from the holidays and after dealing with impeachment.

The original NAFTA phased out nearly all tariffs on goods produced and traded within North America. It was extraordinary because it linked two wealthy, developed countries with a poor, developing country. Since then, trade with Canada and Mexico has increased more rapidly than trade with most other countries.

Democrats for years have charged that NAFTA led to massive losses of high-paying manufacturing jobs in the U.S. as companies moved production to low-wage Mexico. Trump distinguished himself from free-trade Republicans in the presidential primary with his NAFTA-bashing rhetoric, and his administration got Canada and Mexico to negotiate a rewrite.

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