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Ford buyouts trim work force

About 2,800 accept packages as automaker tries to cut U.S. factory jobs by more than a third.

Christine Tierney / The Detroit News

Around 2,800 workers at Ford Motor Co. have accepted buyout offers this year from the Dearborn automaker, which is slimming down its North American manufacturing operations.

Among them are 800 workers at plants formerly owned by parts supplier Visteon Corp. that Ford took back as part of a bailout deal for its onetime subsidiary.

The number of hourly workers who have agreed to take buyouts comes to 4,300 to date, including 1,500 at former Visteon plants who accepted early-retirement offers last fall. In addition, Ford has cut nearly 4,000 white-collar U.S. jobs, including contract positions, in the first quarter of this year.

Like crosstown rival General Motors Corp., Ford is offering buyouts to shrink its North American hourly work force and restore its U.S. operations to profitability.

Ford wants to cut the number of its U.S. factory jobs by 30,000, or more than a third, from the 87,000 now employed, over the next six years. During that time, it plans to close seven assembly plants and an equal number of parts plants.

The automaker began offering five different buyout packages to workers at certain plants either slated for closure or considered overstaffed in mid-January. By the end of March, about 2,000 workers at its Edison, N.J.; Lorain, Ohio; and St. Louis assembly plants had accepted offers, Ford spokeswoman Marcey Evans said.

The majority took buyouts designed for workers eligible for retirement or nearing retirement age, while 670, or about a third, opted for $100,000 lump-sum offers or packages featuring education benefits.

"If you're talking three plants in a short period, it sounds like it's a pretty healthy number," said David Healy of Burnham Securities.

Of the workers at former Visteon plants who have taken buyouts, 43 percent chose the lump-sum or educational buyout, said Della DiPietro, spokeswoman for Automotive Components Holdings LLC, a Ford unit.

Ford has no intention of matching GM's move to offer buyouts to all of its U.S. hourly employees, as well as many of those at Delphi Corp., GM's former parts subsidiary. Ford executives say their strategy allows the automaker to target facilities that are overstaffed or slated for closure.

It has announced plans to close assembly plants in Norfolk, Va.; St. Paul, Minn.; St. Louis; Atlanta; and Wixom. It is also closing Batavia Transmission in Ohio and Windsor Casting in Ontario.

The automaker expects to announce the closures of two more North American assembly plants and five more parts plants.

Eligible hourly workers may choose from five buyout offers. Workers 55 and older who have 30 or more years with the company can receive a $35,000 check and begin retirement with full benefits. Workers 50 or older with 10 or more years seniority receive a fixed income for life, though not as much as they would get through normal retirement. A pre-retirement program for workers with 28 years of service allows them to take leave -- during which they would receive 85 percent of their pay -- until they reach 30 years of service.

This year, Ford added two buyout offers of a less traditional nature: a $100,000 payment for workers who agree to leave and forgo all benefits except pensions they have accrued, and an educational opportunity program. It provides workers with at least one year of seniority as much as $15,000 a year for tuition to an accredited school for up to four years, plus full medical benefits and half their regular pay while they attend school.
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