By Amye Anderson
UCBJ Managing Editor
UPPER CUMBERLAND – The recent months have been a rollercoaster of sorts for local trucking giant Fitzgerald Glider Kits.
Just weeks after announcing layoffs – five rounds of layoffs, to be exact – at its production facilities, the company’s president and CEO says he hopes to return soon to previous production levels.
This announcement comes just days after the EPA said it would not uphold, for now at least, the emissions ruling that critically injured the company.
“This action by EPA leadership is greatly appreciated and will protect the rural communities where we live and work,” Tommy Fitzgerald, Sr., the company’s CEO and president, said in a statement. “We are optimistic that we will be able to return to our prior production levels in the near future and rehire workers in these economically depressed areas of the country.”
The Phase II rule – officially known as Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Fuel Efficiency Standards for Medium- and Heavy-Duty Engines and Vehicles – essentially regulates gliders as new motor vehicles and significantly reduces the number of glider kits the company can produce each year.
Prior to scaling back its workforce, Fitzgerald Glider Kits reportedly employed more than 700 individuals; churning out more than 3,000 glider kits annually.
“Fitzgerald has been a champion of rural America and has lowered unemployment from 20- to 4-percent in some regions,” Tommy Sr. said in a statement. “The Agency’s ‘no-action assurance’ will protect our most valuable asset – our employees.”
The Fitzgerald camp has remained mum on exactly how many employees were affected by the waves of layoffs. At least one facility, the one located in Jamestown, closed entirely in recent weeks.
When the Phase II ruling went into effect in recent months, Fitzgerald’s annual production was capped; slashed by 90 percent down to 300 units annually.
With the EPA loosening its grip on the regulations and taking another look at the Phase II rule, Fitzgerald is hopeful for the future of the industry.
“This decision by the EPA and (the President Donald) Trump administration gives our industry a chance to survive as we await final action by the EPA,” Tommy Sr. said, adding the EPA has indicated it will continue to work “as expeditiously as possible” on a final rule relating to the glider kit production cap.