Arrow Trucking: Is this any way to lay off workers?

The layoff notice? Arrow Trucking gas cards no longer work at the pump, leaving some drivers stranded hundreds of miles from home.

A worker loads pipes onto a flatbed truck in a file image taken in April. Flatbed operator Arrow Trucking shut down operations Tuesday, cutting off its drivers' gas cards and telling them to return their rigs in exchange for bus tickets home.

[Editor's note: This article was updated and a quote was replaced to more accurately reflect the state of the trucking industry.]
Layoffs are a fact of life in this economy, but there are humane ways to do it. Then there's the Arrow Trucking method.

The Tulsa, Okla., trucking company stopped payment on the gas cards of its drivers, leaving some of them stranded Tuesday around the United States, miles from home. No explanation on the website. No one at the company answering phones.

The 200 or so employees at Arrow Trucking's headquarters were told to pack up their belongings and go home Tuesday morning, according to the Tulsa World.

The only acknowledgement was a brief recorded message on the company's main phone number, asking drivers of its Freightliner and Kenworth trucks to turn their rigs in to the nearest dealer and to call a special hotline to arrange for a bus ticket home. Drivers of the company's Navistar trucks were told to call back for more information.

"I wouldn't say it's typical, but I wouldn't say it's unheard of" for a trucking company to lay off workers in such a fashion, says Alan Bristol, a truck driver in Fort Collins, Colo., who was laid off earlier this year.

The difference is that more than 95 percent of such failures involve companies with fewer than 20 trucks. The apparent failure of Arrow Trucking, with some 1,400 flatbed trucks and 2,600 trailers operating throughout the US, created much bigger ripples throughout the industry. "A company this size would normally go into this bankruptcy in a little bit more orderly manner," Mr. Bristol says.

Information about the company's fate remains scarce. In February, the company laid off 32 administrative workers, about 2 percent of its workforce, citing a soft economy.

Because trucking firms operate on low margins, several hundred exit the business each year. Socked by high fuel prices in 2008, a whopping 3,065 trucking companies with five or more drivers went under. This year, the industry has lost 1,255 firms through the third quarter, a pace which is a little better than in 2007.

But "the trucking industry is still in the worst slowdown since the Depression," writes Clayton Boyce, spokesman for the American Trucking Associations (ATA), in an e-mail. In October, the ATA's truck tonnage index – a number that measures the amount carried on trucks for a given month – fell slightly from a month earlier. Truck freight volumes are down 20 percent to 30 percent from what they were less than two years ago, he adds.

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