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Labor Day jolt leaves 89 here needing a job


Most of the 89 employees at Consolidated Freightways Corp.'s Baltimore terminal were scrounging for new jobs yesterday after the Vancouver, Wash.-based trucking company decided to shut down its U.S. operations on Labor Day, putting about 15,500 Teamsters out of work nationwide.

William Alexander, president of Teamsters Local 557, called the company's decision to shutter the terminal on Labor Day "a slap in the face."

Alexander spent much of yesterday morning on the phone, helping former Consolidated drivers and dockworkers find work with other union trucking companies in Maryland. More than 60 of Consolidated's 89 local employees are Teamsters.

Employees are to be allowed into the terminal on Benson Avenue today to retrieve personal belongings.

"It's a sad day for us all here," Alexander said. "The company's been around for 73 years, and we thought they'd be able to turn it around."

Some fired employees might not have to wait long to find work. Competing trucking companies are vying for Consolidated's customers and employees.

Alexander said several companies contacted the union yesterday looking for drivers. More than 150,000 Marylanders are employed in the trucking industry, according to the Maryland Motor Truck Association.

"I've been getting phone calls all day," Alexander said. "My objective right now is to get as many of these guys as I can into a job."

The collapse of Consolidated Freightways gives other struggling trucking companies an opportunity to gain market share and raise prices at a time of weak demand.

Shares of several large rivals made double-digit percentage gains as investors bet they would pick up much of the business left behind by Consolidated.

"This is a sea change for our industry," said Bill Zollars, chief executive of Overland Park, Kan.-based Yellow Corp., which is among those taking applications from former Consolidated workers in Baltimore, a company official said yesterday.

Yellow is among the biggest companies vying for business once belonging to Consolidated, which had $2 billion in revenue last year and controlled about 15 percent of the domestic long-haul market.

"We've gotten hundreds of phone calls today from companies that would like us to be their provider and I'm sure that's going on all over the industry," said Zollars, who declined to identify any of the new customers.

Consolidated's clientele included Home Depot Inc., the U.S. Postal Service and General Electric Co., and analysts said those companies are likely to encounter delivery snags over the next two or three days.

The company's demise is expected to bring huge benefits to Yellow, Arkansas Best Corp., Roadway Corp. and other leaders in the "less-than-truckload" sector.

Less-than-truckload carriers fill trailers with freight from multiple customers and move it around the country through a hub-and-spoke system. Truckload carriers dedicate entire trailers to one customer and haul their goods from point to point.

On the Nasdaq stock market yesterday, shares of Arkansas Best soared $5.09, or 25 percent, to $25.67. Shares of Roadway shot up $3.64, or 15 percent, to $27.24 and Yellow's stock price climbed $2.77, 12 percent, to $25.06. Consolidated did not trade; its shares last changed hands at 71 cents.

Analysts said the less-than-truckload companies will be able to share 2.3 million tons of freight and raise their rates.

Thomas Albrecht, a trucking analyst at BB&T; Capital Markets in Richmond, Va., said the survivors' yields could improve by about 5 percent for the next two to three years and possibly usher in "a new golden era" for the troubled sector.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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