WAKARUSA — After weeks of uncertainty about the future of their jobs, the people who build Monaco and Holiday Rambler motorhomes at least know they won’t be doing those jobs in Wakarusa anymore.
“It’s been quite a roller coaster ride of emotions,” said Paul Bailey, a final finishing employee at what was, up until Thursday, May 16, Navistar RV.
Navistar said months ago that it planned to sell the RV business, and employees were told a few weeks back that there was a sale in the works, but nobody knew any details until the official announcement Thursday from Navistar and from Allied Specialty Vehicles, which purchased the business.
Allied is moving motorhome production from Wakarusa to Decatur, Ind., but keeping towable production in Elkhart.
After employees learned about the sale Thursday, they got to go home with pay. When they were all to report to work Friday, May 17, to learn details about the business transfer, Bailey said not everyone came back.
Company officials laid out the plans, saying, “Roadmaster will put their last chassis through in about three weeks.” By the end of July, the third and final wave of employees will be wrapping up work. “My last day is Aug. 2. I’m in the third group; we’re in the last group,” Bailey said.
Employees who stick around are eligible for a completion bonus, and Navistar will provide an additional three months of insurance coverage, Bailey said.
Employees who transfer to ASV, either in Elkhart or Decatur, will be immediately eligible for benefits with no wait.
Bailey said he’s put in a request for transfer to the towable division in Elkhart, and is thinking about trying to get on in Decatur, as well as weighing other options.
“It’s a tough situation. Do I stay to the end and hope I can find a job? Do I take another job and not take the bonus and the COBRA? That puts me in a tough situation.
“My house is here, my kids are in the Wakarusa schools, I live 3 miles from work,” Bailey said.
He knows that he has options, but said, “I have co-workers who have no options, and I’ve worked with people who have nowhere else to go.”
Bailey also said, “I don’t know what the outcome’s going to be. I’ll try to be positive about it. At the same time, if you have a house payment and kids and bills to pay, anytime you have something like this hanging over your heads, it’s stressful.”
Bailey, like Wakarusa Town Manager Jeff Troxel, said they have hopes that the expanding local RV industry will take over the facility and hire some of the people who will be displaced.
Bailey noted that “the paint shop in Wakarusa is the largest RV paint shop in the United States.”
Troxel said, “It’s an awesome structure, state of the art. I really think someone will come along and buy it.”
The sale marks Navistar’s total exit from Wakarusa. Navistar spokeswoman Elissa Koc said the company eliminated its line of Wakarusa-made eStar trucks in March, assigning those employees to other projects in the company.
It’s all part of Navistar’s major turnaround plan “which allocates more time and resources to our core North American truck, engine and parts business,” Koc wrote in an email message Friday. That effort shut down a Texas plant, leased out part of an Alabama facility, sold the sale of their stake in a joint venture with an Indian company and suspension of production of their 15-liter engine, in addition to selling Navistar RV.
In the wake of Navistar’s total departure, while Bailey and his co-workers are wrestling with their short-term futures, Troxel said in the long run, the community will come out on top.
Despite Monaco’s earlier failure in Wakarusa and Utilimaster’s move out of town, jobs have popped up to replace many of them in the past, and he’s optimistic it will happen again.
“I think ultimately we’ll be OK. It just seems like whenever we get hit by something like this we bounce back and are better than we were before. I really think good will come of this,” Troxel said.