Southeastern Freight Lines’ No-Layoff Policy Pays Off

Southeastern Freight Lines, a regional less-than-truckload (LTL) transportation services provider, has emerged from the recession with a strong foundation intact due to maintaining its no-layoff policy and is now hiring more than 900 employees in 2010 as business levels rebound.

The commitment to employees has enabled the company to build a culture of customer service excellence over its 60-year history, and everyone in the company takes pride that even in the midst of a challenging economy, the company set new performance records for customer service, reliability and employee safety.

“Not only were we successful at avoiding layoffs, but we also maintained wages for employees and kept all benefits in place,” said Mike Heaton, a senior vice president for Southeastern Freight Lines. “Now as the economy recovers and orders increase, we have experienced employees ready to serve our customers and maintain our high standards. In addition, we’re only hiring around 900 people instead of the many more that we would have had to hire and train if we had laid off employees like other companies in the trucking industry.”

The trucking business is a bellwether for economic conditions. As businesses and consumers spend more, increased shipments of products and materials are required. While remaining conservatively optimistic, Southeastern is finalizing shipment projections for next year and preparing to order new equipment and expand facilities that need additional capacity to support growing business activities.

When the economy began to erode in 2008, Southeastern formed a “Keep Our People Working” task force to maintain the no-layoff commitment. The task force developed strategies for each service center with a goal of keeping all employees working while also maintaining all benefits and wage levels.

From reducing costs for outsourced services to refurbishing trucks instead of buying new ones, the task force successfully found creative ways to keep people working. For example, an hourly rate system was adopted temporarily in which companies could lease a truck and a driver. Employees were also put to work in other roles, such as drivers working in the maintenance shop to refurbish trailers and perform other maintenance work.

Although costs were cut, Southeastern upheld its high standards of service and safety. In fact, last year Southeastern saw the lowest accidents per million miles and the lowest total injuries per 200,000 hours in the past decade. Southeastern also continued to raise performance benchmarks including transit time, shipments per claim, invoicing accuracy, P&D cost ratio and dock efficiency.

“I am very proud of what Southeastern has been able to accomplish amid the economic challenges that our customers and the entire economy faced during the recession,” added Heaton. “Our dedicated employees make this all possible, and it is our commitment to them that has put us at a great advantage as we look to begin our largest wave of hiring since 2006.”

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