- Matt Sanctis Staff Writer
Members of Springfield’s UAW Local 402 have started a letter-writing campaign to Ohio Gov. John Kasich and state lawmakers after Navistar lost its years-long hold on a contract to provide trucks for the Ohio Department of Transportation.
Navistar, which employs more than 1,800 workers at its Springfield manufacturing plant and has thousands of retirees in the area, lost a bid to supply roughly 130 trucks to ODOT next year to Valley Freightliner, a Cleveland-area truck dealership.
Navistar’s bid came in slightly higher than Freightliner, said Jason Barlow, president of the UAW Local 402. But both bids were close, he said, and a provision in state law should have kicked in giving preference to Navistar because of its larger economic impact on Ohio.
But ODOT officials said the agency followed the rules of its bid process to get taxpayers the best value and that Navistar can bid on future annual contracts.
The state’s decision could have a trickle-down effect, Barlow said, because townships and other local government entities often look to ODOT before making their own purchases.
The Freightliner dealership is located in Ohio, but Barlow said that company’s trucks are manufactured in another state whereas Navistar makes them in Springfield.
The 2018 bid included 128 trucks purchased from Valley Freightliner and three from Rush Truck–Cincinnati. The state evaluated eight bids, according to ODOT.
Navistar has long had a hold on the contract, said Matt Bruning, an ODOT spokesman. From fiscal year 2002 to 2017, he said ODOT purchased more than 1,670 trucks from Navistar for $128.1 million. Freightliner received contracts for 73 trucks at $7.7 million during that span.
“Ohio law is designed to give all qualified companies a chance to bid on our contracts,” Bruning said. “The goal is to get the best value for Ohio taxpayers. As has been the case for years, a company with a significant economic presence in Ohio was awarded the contract.”
Officials from Valley Freightliner and the company’s corporate offices couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday.
The UAW has started a campaign to send hundreds of letters to Kasich, ODOT and state lawmakers, requesting that they review the bids again and award the contract to Navistar.
“I can’t believe that the state would award a contract to a company that has very little financial impact for the state other than a few dealers, over a company that has had a manufacturing presence in Ohio for over 100 years and currently employs thousands of Ohio citizens,” the union’s letter says.
Navistar has been working with the Chamber of Greater Springfield to promote a “Buy Local” campaign encouraging local governments to purchase Navistar vehicles.
Barlow pointed to language in state law that says to have a “significant economic presence” businesses must pay taxes and be registered in Ohio and have either 10 or more employees in the state, or have 75 percent or more of their employees in Ohio. Freightliner would qualify under that specific language, Barlow said, but the trucks are manufactured outside Ohio and said the language acts as a loophole.
“Nothing against Freightliner, but they don’t have an economic presence in the state of Ohio other than some dealership network,” Barlow said. “If you have a dealership that has 10 to 20 employees versus a manufacturing facility that has 1,800 employees, and for every job we have, there are four others out there through the supply base — that’s a huge economic presence.”
State Rep. Kyle Koehler, R-Springfield, said he’s looking into whether new legislation could clear up language in the bid process to prevent future disputes.
“I’m trying to do everything I can within my power to help Navistar move forward with this,” Koehler said. “My hope as a state legislator is that I can change maybe how the state of Ohio looks at buying things that are made in Ohio. There’s currently some wording out there that helps businesses in Ohio but I think it’s vague and it needs to be strengthened.”