US:Ford plant to cut shift
Ford plant to cut shift
Wayne SUV factory will eliminate about 700 jobs
Bryce G. Hoffman / The Detroit News
About Michigan Truck
Location : Wayne
Employment : 2,800
Size : 2.9 million square feet
Year opened : 1957
Current products : Ford Expedition/Lincoln Navigator
Production history : station wagon bodies, Ford Bronco, F-Series pickups
Ford Motor Co. will cut production to one shift at its Michigan Truck Plant in the second quarter of 2007, citing declining demand for the big sport utility vehicles assembled there.
Ford, which confirmed the move Wednesday, said it has not yet determined how many workers will be affected by the decision, but people familiar with the plan said Ford will cut about 700 of the plant's 2,800 jobs. Some displaced workers could be transferred to other Ford facilities.
The shift cut is the latest sign of how Ford's troubles are rippling through the already-ailing economy in Metro Detroit and Michigan.
Michigan Truck, which makes the Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator SUVs, is the largest Ford assembly plant in Michigan. The factory, located in Wayne, was once the most profitable automotive plant in the world, generating $10 billion in revenue annually as SUV sales soared in the late 1990s.
Now, declining demand for the gas-guzzling vehicles is taking a toll.
"With the shift in the market, we're matching our full-size sport utility vehicle capacity with demand as part of our North American turnaround plan," Ford spokeswoman Anne Marie Gattari said Wednesday. "We believe we'll be able to meet this demand with one shift."
The move came as a surprise to many workers because the plant just began production of new versions of both the Navigator and Expedition. Sales of the two vehicles were up in October, and the SUVs have been well received by dealers and critics.
But George Pipas, manager of sales analysis and reporting for Ford, said October's numbers are an aberration. Last year, October sales were down sharply. And while gasoline prices may be lower now, most Americans expect them to go up again in the future, he said.
"We are getting a lift because of the new product introductions," Pipas said. "But we believe sales of SUVs will be lower at the end of this decade than they are today."
Workers at the factory are represented by Local 900 of the United Auto Workers. Union officials could not be reached for comment Wednesday. On Tuesday, Local 900 Vice President Brian Quantz told The Detroit News he was not sure the cut was coming, but added "it ain't looking good."
He said eliminating one shift at Michigan Truck will likely cause major disruptions at Ford's other Wayne factories, since workers with high seniority would be able to bump workers with less time at the company in most cases.
"It's premature to be talking about transfers or layoffs," Gattari said Wednesday, adding that the company will be meeting with workers to discuss the move over the next few days.
One meeting was already under way Wednesday night, according to worker John Kujat. The 42-year-old has worked at Michigan Truck for more than a decade and said he understands the realities of the marketplace.
"The company has to do what they have to do," Kujat said. "If less people are buying the products, you've got to go according to that."
While he is not too concerned about his job, Kujat said he is worried about workers with less seniority, as well as salaried staff with no union contract to protect them.
"I am confident I'll be put somewhere," he said. "I'm worried about the people with less tenure. I'm also worried about management, because the white-collar workers can lose their jobs at any time. It's hard to focus on building cars with all this hanging over our heads."
This is not the first time that production at Michigan Truck has been reduced to one shift.
It went from an around-the-clock three shift schedule to just one shift in the early 1990s when the Gulf War and a nationwide recession undermined sales. But the plant was soon back at full capacity. Production was cut from three shifts to two shifts in 2001.
Ken Poole, 59, has worked at the plant for more than 41 years and remembers the glory days well.
"We made more money for Ford Motor Company than any other plant in history," he said. "They used to fly in one box of bolts by helicopter just to keep the line running."
Poole works on the day shift and had heard nothing but rumors Wednesday.
"They're supposed to make an announcement tomorrow," he said. "We still don't know how it will affect us."
Quantz predicted the announcement would prompt many workers to take advantage of one of the buyout packages Ford is offering to hourly employees, rather than risk having their hours cut.
"It's not going to be pretty," he said. "I know that."
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.....