After 17 years as a Fleming Cos. truck driver, Pete Mades of Mindoro, Wis., is debating whether to apply to be a truck owner/operator for RTX Transportation of Dallas, Texas.

"I'm not quite sure," Mades said Wednesday morning after the first of several informational meetings that RTX is holding through Friday at the La Crosse Center for Fleming drivers whose jobs are being eliminated.

Mades, 42, has been driving a Fleming-owned tractor trailer. If he becomes an owner/operator for RTX, he would have to buy a tractor to pull the trailer that RTX would own.

Five area truck tractor dealers are displaying some of their vehicles during RTX's event in the South Hall of the La Crosse Center. Mades said prices for the tractors he saw Wednesday ranged from about $11,000 for a used one to $100,000 for a new one.

"There's a lot of questions," Mades said, when asked about the mood of Fleming drivers in La Crosse. "A lot of guys don't want to go out and buy a truck."

Mades will decide whether to apply with RTX after he talks with his wife.

"According to the presentation they gave us, we should make as much or more (than Fleming drivers earn now)," Mades said. "That's provided you don't have a lot of breakdowns or unexpected expenses."

Fleming, a major wholesale distributor of groceries and general merchandise, notified employees Monday that it will eliminate the transportation department at its La Crosse distribution facilities in October and contract with RTX to provide transportation services. Fleming said it must focus on being the low-cost provider in the face of fierce competition.

As a result, Dallas-based Fleming expects to eliminate 203 jobs in La Crosse between Oct. 17 and 31, the company told Mayor John Medinger in a letter he received Tuesday. Fleming, which has about 900 employees at its La Crosse distribution facilities, said the job cuts will include 158 drivers.

Chad Davis, RTX senior director of business development, declined to say exactly how many people RTX plans to hire or contract with in La Crosse. Asked if the company might need all 203 positions that Fleming is eliminating, he said, "A large percentage of that we will need."

As owner/operators, Davis said in an interview at the La Crosse Center, truck drivers would be independent contractors. RTX will have employees in La Crosse for other transportation functions such as clerical work and dispatching. RTX will operate from Fleming's La Crosse facilities.

Davis said he could not comment on whether the affected Fleming employees will earn as much money if they switch to RTX.

RTX also goes by its full name, Refrigerated Transport Express LP.

Copyright La Crosse Tribune Aug 22, 2002
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