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Old 04-21-2004, 06:04   #1 (permalink)
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U.S.A.:Ford sued in medical dispute

Ford sued in medical dispute

12 workers seek transfer to Dearborn plant, but company doctor declared them unfit

By David Shepardson / The Detroit News

DETROIT — Twelve Ford Motor Co. employees filed suit in Wayne County Circuit Court Tuesday claiming the automaker wrongfully declared them medically unfit to continue working.

The workers — ranging in age from 26 to 38 — were declared unfit to work after they were transferred in March from Visteon Corp.’s Chesterfield Township seat plant to Ford’s new Dearborn truck plant at the Rouge manufacturing complex.

The workers — among 200 Chesterfield employees who transferred to Ford’s Dearborn truck plant — claim they are healthy and asked the court to force Ford to restore their jobs at the truck plant.

Anne Marie Gattari, a Ford spokeswoman, said the company hadn’t seen the lawsuit and declined to comment.

Wayne Circuit Judge Daphne Means Curtis on Tuesday ordered Ford’s lawyers to appear on April 30 at a hearing to determine whether Ford unlawfully discriminated against the workers by deeming them unfit to work.

Visteon, a former Ford subsidiary, plans to end production at the Chesterfield plant by July 7.

The new Dearborn truck plant is ramping up to produce Ford’s new F-150 pickup and will be the site of the highly anticipated return of factory tours at the Rouge complex. The tours begin May 2.

Michael Pitt, the Royal Oak lawyer representing the workers, said he believes Ford has been “cherry picking” employees to work at the showcase plant.

“It appears they don’t want anyone who they think may have medical problems in the future,” he said.

Under new labor agreements signed last year between the United Auto Workers union, Ford and Visteon, some Visteon workers can transfer back to Ford operations when job openings permit.

The workers suing Ford transferred to the Dearborn truck plant March 12. Most of the workers spoke to The Detroit News in a conference call Tuesday.

Following a week-long orientation, the workers were assigned to a production line at the new plant. After several days on the job, 10 of the 12 workers were interviewed by the plant’s physician. Two other workers, the suit claims, were not interviewed.

On March 23, the 12 workers — and a 13th employee who hasn’t sued — were declared medically unfit to work, the suit claims. The next day, they returned to the Chesterfield plant — where they have since spent their work shifts sitting in a conference room.

In the suit, the employees claim a physician at the Chesterfield plant admitted he was “strong-armed” into agreeing the 12 workers were medically unfit.

“It’s scary because they are deeming us unfit for assembly work. Where are we going to go? Why would (other Ford plants) take us?” said lead plaintiff Theresa McQuerry, 33, of Clinton Township.

McQuerry, who started at the Chesterfield plant in 1994, said she has been off work on medical leave in the past, but has worked continuously since July 2003.

Most of the workers involved in the lawsuit have some history of medical problems, but all say they are now fit to work.

Shannon McHale, 26, of Warren had her appendix removed Feb. 19 and returned to work March 8. She was limited to lifting no more than 75 pounds but the restriction has since been dropped.

“This is very stressful to think that Ford controls my life,” said McHale, a single mother of three children.

Visteon spokesman Jim Fisher said the company has reduced the number of hourly workers at the Chesterfield plant from about 1,600 to 850 UAW-represented workers.

Ford spun off Visteon in 2000, with an agreement that about 20,000 Ford hourly employees working for Visteon remain Ford employees.

The plant makes seats for the Lincoln Navigator, Ford Expedition and Lincoln Town Car.

Ford is transferring the seating business to Johnson Controls Inc.
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