WILMINGTON — On May 28, 2008, DHL announced it planned to partner with UPS to transport DHL’s air shipments within North America (a deal that never materialized).
The privately owned DHL Air Park in Wilmington had served as DHL’s air and ground superhub in North America since fall 2005 — for two and a half years. The consolidation of DHL’s air operations in Wilmington had been a centerpiece of a $1.2 billion investment in its U.S. network by the global delivery company.
The announcement meant night sort operations in Wilmington would be eliminated. There were thousands employed as night-time sorters, some of them area farmers who wanted the health insurance coverage and extra cash provided by their moonlighting.
“We tried to talk about this openly, honestly and face-to-face with our employees, and tell them that none of them deserve it. And that it’s a really, really hard thing to go through and we’ll help each other get through it,” said ABX Air then-President John Graber later that day.
At a press conference in the Bonn, Germany headquarters of Deutsche Post World Net — DHL’s parent company — Deutsche Post’s CEO Frank Appel described the restructuring of DHL’s business in the United States as a “comprehensive and radical plan.”
The U.S. division of DHL reportedly had been losing hundreds of millions of dollars annually in its attempt to be a third player in the U.S. domestic shipping market with UPS and FedEx. That goal may have been overly ambitious from the start, even before the economy was weakened by the Great Recession.
A day after the announcement the News Journal spoke with ABX employees and friends Susie Michael and Rhonda Fogle. Earlier that year the two saw their full-time jobs cut back to 6 and a half hours.
They went to talk with upper management about it.
“We were told to make the adjustments,” Michael related.
Of the announcement 24 hours earlier, Michael said, “We got blind-sided. There’s no other job in Clinton County that’s going to pay that [her $17.55 hourly wage].”
Fogle said she was concerned about the air park workers who had done nothing else, “especially the older people who have been there 25 years. You know, they’re 50 years old. They can’t retire yet.”
Then-Clinton County Commissioner Randy Riley said, “It would be awful for our community to lose 6,000 jobs [an early number reported] — even 500 jobs. That would affect every family, every person in Clinton County. I hate the thought of it happening.”
He added, “I’m sad that DHL is losing money, but the big impact is what it’s going to be on us.”
Two of the first public meetings scheduled here in the wake of the announcement were a community prayer service at the Wilmington First Baptist Church and a gathering spear-headed by union activists.
The latter meeting focused on the theme of saving the jobs “and building a community fightback,” said Tony Olson, lead local organizer for the American Postal Workers Union (APWU), AFL-CIO. About 125 people attended that meeting which was facilitated by Mark Dimondstein, who now is president of the national APWU.
One man there said however much money DHL had lost the prior year in its U.S. operations, the global DHL Express reported a profit.
DHL said it lost $900 million in the United States in 2007, and projected a higher loss for 2008.
Clinton County’s congressional representative, U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, reported that in a meeting with DHL officials, “I told them that usually when a company is losing money, they fire someone, they don’t fire a whole town.”
Two days after the announcement, then-Ohio Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher said a task force was being planned to address issues related to DHL’s action. Fisher also served at the time as director of the Ohio Department of Development.
Less than a week following the news from Bonn, Germany, Books ’n’ More co-owner Dan Stewart hung a sign outside the downtown Main Street shop that read: “Save the Jobs, save our community, sign a petition here.”
Stewart said he was hoping for a resolution that didn’t eliminate so many local jobs.
By the third week of June, almost 6,000 people had signed petitions against DHL’s plan.
At his first mayor’s report to Wilmington City Council after the announcement, David Raizk began with a deep sigh and admitted he was harried. The matter, he said, is “of grave concern.”
More than 8,150 jobs based at the Wilmington Air Park would be lost. This does not count indirect job losses, such as at local hotels where pilots were major customers.
In January 2010, as Clinton County and Wilmington began their bicentennial years, the unemployment rate in Clinton County peaked at 20.1 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Reach Gary Huffenberger at 937-556-5768.