Like many companies in these tough times, Navistar Diesel of Alabama, faced severe layoffs this January, but unlike other companies, it devised a way to keep employees on the payroll. Instead of laying off workers, plant manager Chuck Sibley kept them on, and loaned them out to local charities -- saving the jobs of 50 people, who would have been laid off.
"We knew last July we were going to have a problem, that we're going to have too many people and we weren't going to have work for them in January," Sibley told ABC News. "I woke up at 3 a.m. in the morning, trying to figure out what I am going to do with everybody, and it just popped into my head that I could get them to do community work because we knew this was going to be a temporary thing." He approached the president of the engine group, and the ball began rolling.
Navistar began what it's calling the Employee to Volunteer program. Instead of reporting to work at the Huntsville Ala., engine plants, 50 employees are working for Habitat for Humanity, the Salvation Army and a local charity that builds wheel chair ramps for the homebound.
Sibley runs two plants in Alabama for Navistar, with a total of 331 workers. The company makes diesel engines for various truck manufacturers. Of the 250 assembly line workers, 20 percent volunteer so all the workers can keep their plant positions.
Employee Eric Rogers, who is now making wheelchair ramps, says, "We've gotten to where we are enjoying this." When ABC News caught up with him, he was installing a ramp in an elderly woman's home. "When the ambulance comes here, they gotta fight through the door, we just made it easier access," he said. He and his team were building their 26th ramp.
"It helps everybody … it helps the community," says Andy Yarbrough, a plant machinist who is spending his days constructing houses for Habitat for Humanity.
The plant workers are very grateful to their boss for starting the program, especially in these times of hardship for many Americans across the country. "It's amazing. There's no real way to really describe what they have done," said Rogers.
"We would have probably gotten laid off, been on the unemployment line, been a statistic," explained Roxanne Lee, who now volunteers at the Salvation Army. Instead, she says, "Every day we have an inspiring story. … It's an opportunity for us to really see the other side of life."
Imirui Garner, an 8-year veteran of the engine plant, is also working at the Salvation Army, sorting mounds of clothes. "There was a little child coming in with no shoes on, to be able to get shoes. It's just been good to see that type of thing."
This program not only helps workers avoid the unemployment line but also helps those who need work done by the volunteers. "It means the world to me," said Francine Campbell, the lady who was effectively trapped by her house until Rogers and his crew built her wheelchair ramp.
Navistar Management says the program also helps the company in the long run. "We build loyalty with everybody, we build good will in the community," says Sibley.
But it's not all about the bottom line says Sibley. "People work for a company and you work your heart out for a company, and it isn't always about the bottom line. … You help people that really, really need help. It's worth doing."
The program has been a lesson in the size of America's heart. As Rogers told ABC News, "It just shows how great our country is. We give and help an unbelievable amount, more than any other country I know." Roxanne Lee adds, "What I know about America is it takes all of us working together to help one another to make this a great country."