By Kirk Johannesen@therepublic.com

johannesen@therepublic.com

   NTN Driveshaft laid off 200 hourly employees Thursday morning, citing the slumping automotive industry and declining sales.

    The company previously cut production employees' hours from 40 to 28 (four seven-hour days), to keep costs in line with production.

    NTN, which supplies continuous velocity joints to most automotive companies in North America, employs about 1,280.

    It has experienced a decline in orders dating to April 2007. Dennis Fogle, NTN administration manager, said the continued decline led to the layoffs, which had been discussed for weeks. 

    "We've had an excess of people for quite some time now. We don't see the market going up at all; it's been flattening out," Fogle said. 

    Mayor Fred Armstrong credited NTN for postponing layoffs as long as it did, but said the reality is that companies eventually have to lay off workers if orders are not coming in. 

    He said the global automotive slump has not hit rock bottom yet, and an upswing is not expected until later in the year. 

    "For the next five months it will be tough times and then we'll see changes, but that depends on the stimulus package," Armstrong said. 

    No decision has been made at NTN on how the three production shifts will be adjusted. However, employees who were retained will work four eight-hour days each week, Fogle said. 

    Workers who were laid off came from NTN's two CVJ plants and the forging plant.

    Maintenance and tool-and-dye employees were not affected, nor were salaried professionals, such as engineers, administration and safety inspectors, whose pay is based on 40-hour weeks. 

    , though, Fogle said. 

    Layoffs were based on seniority, and affected people who were hired after mid-year 2007. 

    Workers did not receive a severance package, Fogle said, because those are given only in firings or permanent reductions. 

    The laid-off workers were paid for their last day, but their insurance benefits ceased Thursday. 

    Early Thursday, third-shift workers were pulled aside by managers, and those who were being laid off were taken to a room, where they were given the news. They received an information packet, which included a letter about the decision, the impact it has on their benefits and information on how to collect unemployment insurance. 

    The workers collected personal items, turned in identification badges and were told to leave. The process was repeated before first- and second-shift workers began their workdays. 

    The Republic acquired a copy of the letter to the employees, which was signed by Fogle. It said: 

    "Effective February 12, 2009, NTN Driveshaft, Inc. has found it necessary to reduce its workforce. As we look to the future, we find it hard to determine where the automotive market will stabilize. We are optimistic about the long term plans but must be cautious in this volatile market. 

    "NTN Driveshaft, Inc. will be reducing the workforce by approximately 200 employees. Those employees being out placed by the reduction will remain on a recall list and will be asked to return to employment on an as needed basis."

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