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US:Ford pits plant vs. plant

Ford pits plant vs. plant

It demands cost-cutting from UAW

Sharon Terlep / The Detroit News

Ford Motor Co. is leaning on the United Auto Workers for concessions to help cut factory costs -- a move that is pitting plant against plant in a scramble to prove which one can pump out vehicles most cost-effectively.

Ford is making it clear that the most efficient and flexible factories have the best chance to survive and win new work as the automaker weighs decisions on plant closings and production slowdowns, UAW officials said Monday.

Ford is in talks this week with UAW leaders at factories in Dearborn and Kansas City, Mo., that make the F-150 pickup, Ford's top-selling model.

The union is warning employees that they must find ways to cut costs before Ford will sign off on where it will build 2009 model F-150s, due on the market in late 2008. Similar talks are playing out at plants across the country.

"They've come to us and said we're going to have to be more competitive," said Jerry Sullivan, president of UAW Local 600, which represents workers at the Dearborn Truck Plant at Ford's Rouge complex. "We're trying to be as cost-competitive as possible so we can secure our jobs and our future."

Ford spokeswoman Anne Marie Gattari declined to discuss talks with union leaders about 2009 model year production.

"We need to transform all of our plants to be the most competitive in the world," Gattari said. "We are communicating this to our plants on an ongoing basis."

Ford is putting pressure on UAW locals around the country as the automaker explores every possible option for cutting costs and restoring profits.

In January, the company said it would cut 30,000 factory jobs and close 14 plants by 2012 as part of a restructuring plan dubbed the "way forward." Seven plants have been identified.

After an unexpected $254 million loss in the second quarter, mainly driven by slumping truck sales as consumers turn to more fuel-efficient models, Ford said it would have to expand and deepen the restructuring, which could mean even more job losses and shuttered factories.

Earlier this month, Ford said the broader restructuring would include slashing fourth-quarter vehicle production 21 percent, the biggest cut in more than two decades. About half of the output cut is F-150 pickups, with demand for the trucks down 12.3 percent this year.

But experts say pitting plant against plant is a risky strategy.

"It's a tricky balancing act with high stakes," said Harley Shaiken, a labor expert at the University of California-Berkeley.

UAW leaders at individual factories have been responsive to Ford's efforts to ramp up efficiencies, and making them feel like they are in competition could stir resistance.

"That is precisely the kind of thing that could prove counterproductive," he said. "You've got a work force that's very productive, but also very resistant to whipsawing."

Ford has told local UAW plant leaders their best chance for survival is becoming lean enough to compete with foreign rivals through more flexible work rules, outsourcing jobs not directly related to building vehicles and other steps.

For now, workers are anxiously awaiting word on when and where the next cutbacks will hit.

UAW Local 249 in Kansas City got notice from Ford this month that the company would not fund the F-150 program at the plant unless it secured cost reductions from the union, said Jeff Wright, vice president of Local 249.

Ford has asked the union to consider moves such as lowering overtime and changing the work week from five eight-hour days to four 10-hour days. Wright said the plant will have five weeks of down time between now and early 2007.

Workers at the Dearborn Truck Plant received fliers Monday informing them of impending demands from the automaker.

Local 600's Sullivan said Ford's demands likely will include modern operating agreements that allow workers the flexibility to perform multiple tasks. Most factories organized by the UAW divide the labor into dozens of job classifications, and workers are rarely allowed to do anything outside their job description.

Sullivan said he has been sending detailed information to Ford on the number of vehicles and parts per hour the Dearborn plant turns out. He expects to meet with company officials within the next day or so.

"We don't intend to just sit back and lose business," he said.

Some Ford plants have already begun making those changes. Ford's Dearborn Tool & Die Plant and its Chicago Stamping Plant have approved new work rules that have blue-collar workers forming teams to root out inefficiencies and taking on added responsibilities, including some previously assigned to salaried employees.

In both cases, workers at the plants voted to approve the changes.

Similar programs have been successful at other Michigan factories. Workers at DaimlerChrysler AG's Trenton Engine plant, for example, recently approved Japanese-style work rules to pave the way for a proposed engine plant.

Ford's pressure tactics could backfire if workers feel they're fighting one another for jobs, said Bruce Belzowski, an analyst with the University of Michigan's Office for the Study of Automotive Transportation.

"That's a dangerous game for companies to play," Belzowski said. "They're playing hardball because they can make the call about which plants they open and which they don't."

My first car was a 67 Mustang Coupe, 2nd one was a 67 Cougar XR-7, 3rd one was a 66 Mustang Coupe. Why did I get rid of these cars for ? I know why, because I'm stupid, stupid, stupid.

My next Ford.....
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