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US:Ford plant retools work rules

Ford plant retools work rules

Chicago Stamping's flexible, team environment likely to set U.S. standard for automaker.

Bryce G. Hoffman / The Detroit News

Ford Chicago Stamping Plant workers voted to:
Create more flexible production teams
Loosen restrictions on job classifications

Other Ford plants that have changed work rules:
Dearborn Tool & Die
Louisville (Ky.) Assembly Plant
Source: Detroit News research

Workers at Ford Motor Co.'s Chicago Stamping Plant have approved new work rules that the automaker hopes will serve as a model for other facilities as it struggles to make its American factories more efficient and cost competitive.

The new agreement aims to improve efficiency on the factory floor by dividing the plant's workforce into more flexible production teams and loosening restrictions on job classifications so workers can be assigned to jobs where they are most needed.

"There are significant improvements in flexibility," said Jim Sanfilippo, an analyst with AMCI in Bloomfield Hills, who has seen the agreement. "I'm hoping this kind of thing permeates Ford and spreads virally."

Similar changes have already been made at other Ford facilities, and the company also hopes to see such agreements extended to other plants in the future.

"As we turn around our North American operations, it's critical that our plants become more competitive," said Ford spokeswoman Anne Marie Gattari. "We're working with our local union partners in all of our locations to become more efficient and operate as the most competitive facilities in the world."

The terms of local labor agreements, which cover work rules and conditions at specific factories, are becoming increasingly important as Detroit automakers struggle to match the efficiency and costs of Asian transplants.

Workers at the Chicago plant were told their facility was not competitive and would not be considered for new work unless they approved the new work rules, sources familiar with the negotiations said. They were also told the plant might lose existing work, raising the specter of layoffs.

The new work rules were approved by a vote of 944 to 95. United Auto Workers Local 588, which represents workers at the plant, has 1,375 members.

A formal vote was not necessary under the current labor contract, but Ford and union leaders wanted workers to deliver a clear mandate for the changes.

Sanfilippo said the results show just how rapidly the UAW is changing.

"They get it. They supported it. They wanted it," he said, calling the vote a "wake-up call to anyone who still doubts the intelligence of the UAW rank-and-file."

Local union leaders could not be reached for comment. The stamping plant is closed as part of the automaker's annual summer shutdown.

Ford applauded the cooperative spirit demonstrated by workers at the facility.

"We're extremely pleased with the transformation that Chicago Stamping is going through," Gattari said. "They understand what it takes."

The plant, which opened in 1956, produces hoods, side panels and other components for the Ford Five Hundred and Mercury Montego sedans, as well as for the Ford Freestyle crossover utility vehicle, all of which are assembled at Ford's nearby Chicago Assembly Plant.

Sources said the company is seeking a similar agreement there, but has encountered resistance from UAW leaders at that facility who have been less willing to consider such changes.

Both General Motors Corp. and DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler Group have succeeded in implementing similar work rules at some of their factories.

Most factories organized by the UAW divide the labor of automotive assembly into dozens of job classifications, and workers are rarely allowed to do work not covered in their job description.

GM's highly automated Grand River Assembly Plant in Lansing has become a model for the domestic automotive industry.

There are fewer job classifications at Grand River, and workers there are organized into teams. Each team member -- including the team leader -- knows how to perform each task assigned to the team. That means workers can be rotated and fill in for each other as needed.

This approach allows for more flexibility on the factory floor and allows the plant to meet production targets with fewer workers. Union officials say it also translates into better quality and fewer ergonomic injuries.

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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