PINK SLIPS-- A conflict with the parent company's business model comes to light after 66 local workers are laid off
Mark Stephens had a gut feeling he was about to hear some unpleasant news.
Shortly after arriving for his job a Stewart Stiles Truck Line in Cornelius on the morning of Tuesday Oct. 3 the long-time truck driver was told his 5:30 a.m. delivery was cancelled. Then, instead of being assigned routes for the day, he and other employees were called into a 7 a.m. meeting.
'We all had a sense something wasn't good,' said Stephens, who figured he was facing a pay cut. In fact, the announcement was far more devastating: he and 65 other employees - 40 percent of the local workforce - had lost their jobs.
'I was shocked,' he said. 'We were all working hard, so I didn't understand why. We always had business.'
The problem was, it was the wrong kind of business. In 2004 Stewart Stiles and its dedicated trucking division, NFC Nortran, were purchased by Greatwide Logistics Services, a large Texas company with a trucking division.
While Stewart Stiles specialized in 'less than truck load' (or 'LTL') service - basically a courier service for large and heavy objects - Greatwide's core business was shipping full loads across the country, known as 'dedicated' trucking.
'After two years of trying to do so, it became apparent that local pick-up and delivery did not fit into the Greatwide model,' said Greatwide spokesman Blake Lewis. 'Most successful businesses are those who have done a good job defining what they are and what they are not.'
Aside from disrupting the lives of employees, the sudden discontinuation of pick-ups and deliveries caught some Stewart Stiles' customers off-guard as well.
J. Lieb Foods, a Forest Grove food processor, for example, relied on the company to supply its ingredients and deliver its products to customers in Portland.
'I had 26 loads I had to find another source for,' said Terry Purdew, office manager at J. Lieb Foods. 'It's going to be a challenge for us. We used them quite a bit.'
J. Lieb likely isn't the only company to find itself in a tight spot: Stewart Stiles had been a trusted name in local trucking for half a century.
The company was created in 1956 when Charles Davis merged the Stiles Truck Line with the Stewart Truck Line he had bought a year earlier.
The company will continue to run its existing long-haul routes out of its site on Holladay Street, in north Cornelius, but its Salem terminal has been closed.
Greatwide has done what it can for the laid-off drivers, said Mike Tucholsky, operations manager at Stewart Stiles.
Switching to long-distance hauling with Greatwide is an option for some, he said, but due to the prolonged absences from home and extensive distances involved, most of the former Stewart-Stiles drivers, who received severance pay, will probably seek jobs closer to home.
Greatwide is helping in that effort, Tucholsky said. In addition to offering reference letters, the company recently held a resume-writing and interviewing workshop.
'A lot of the folks went and said it was great,' Tucholsky said.
Many of the drivers who lost their jobs have already been re-hired, and those who haven't aren't likely to look for long because qualified truckers are in high demand across the nation, Tucholsky said.
There may also be good news in the future. According to Tucholsky, Greatwide's partnership with the Save-A-Lot grocery chain may lead to a boost to Stewart Stiles' dedicated trucking fleet, since the national retailer is expected to ramp up its Northwest operations in the near future.
A little more than two weeks after being downsized, Stephens has already been offered a job in Wilsonville but turned it down due to the long commute from his home in Cornelius.
He said he's holding out for a job in Beaverton or Hillsboro, but knows that he can find a job elsewhere in the metro area if needed.
Even so, Stephens said his 12-year tenure at Stewart Stiles does not seem like it lasted long enough.
'It was a nice place to work,' he said. 'I'll miss the people.'