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P.A.M. Transportation Services Inc. has temporarily laid off about 65 workers in a move to deal with the loss of business amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Trucking companies that rely on the delivery of car parts for the nation's auto industry are feeling the effects of temporary plant shutdowns.

"We were hit hard," Dan Cushman, president and chief executive officer of P.A.M. said in a string of emails Tuesday. About 50% of the company's business is exposed.

The Lowell-based company's largest customer is General Motors, which has temporarily shut down its manufacturing plants for a second time in the past six months.

An auto workers union strike idled GM's plants for six weeks last year, affecting businesses such as P.A.M.

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Income fell in P.A.M.'s third and fourth quarters. A settlement of $20 million put aside for a minimum wage lawsuit ate into the company's fourth quarter profits. Revenue was down nearly 10% for both quarters.

Cushman said "we were very proud" that there were no layoffs during the strike.

Industries are making adjustments to a slower virus economy. General Motors, Ford and other automakers agreed last week to temporarily close manufacturing plants across America until the end of March.

Since then Ford has extended its restart date without being specific. GM said it is evaluating weekly when to restart operations, and is withdrawing billions in cash from various credit lines to prevent the company's collapse.

P.A.M. notified employees of the layoffs Friday. Cushman said that all of the automotive plants went down with little, to no notice and "there was no getting around it."

In the meantime, Cushman said he was working with customers and several trucking companies to generate business opportunities "to get our people back to work."

Other trucking firms in the state are also adjusting. ArcBest, based in Fort Smith, has not had any recent layoffs but is preparing slower business. David Humphrey, ArcBest's vice president of investor relations, said "we have heard from many of our customers about how they are making changes in their business to minimize the negative impacts of the virus."

No serious effects showed through February, he said in an email. "As we move through the end of March and into the second quarter, business levels will certainly be impacted."

USA Truck, based in Van Buren, reduced its staff in the fourth quarter and closed a maintenance shop a few weeks ago, displacing about 20 workers, but has no plans to make cuts in the coming weeks. James Reed, the company's president and chief executive officer, said the "current crisis is affecting us all and creates both challenges and opportunities."

In total about 60 people lost their jobs in recent months. Reed said in an email that none of the cuts were related to covid-19.

"Like always, we continue to evaluate the business landscape and size the business accordingly -- for now, we remain busy supporting our customers and keeping freight moving," he said.

J.B. Hunt, based in Lowell, has taken precautions such as directing employees who can work from home to do so until April 3. The company is also offering paid time off for employees who are unable to work because of illness and giving a one-time bonus of $500 to drivers and support staff members that have kept freight moving through the pandemic.

A spokesman with J.B. Hunt did not immediately return messages seeking comment on whether any recent job losses were related to the coronavirus.

One upside is that state partners and competitors are collaborating more than ever under these dire straits, said Cushman, the chairman of the Arkansas Trucking Association.

"That is refreshing to see," he said.

Business on 03/25/2020

Print Headline: Truckers, car-makers idle, laying off

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