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Ford extends buyouts at more plants

Packages to be offered even at factories that will remain open; Wixom workers will get deals Thursday.

Bryce G. Hoffman / The Detroit News

Ford Motor Co. is extending lucrative buyout offers to workers at more U.S. factories, including plants scheduled to remain open under its ongoing restructuring.

While Ford will offer buyouts and early retirement packages to tens of thousands of workers, the automaker is stopping short of offering the deals to all of its U.S. hourly workers, as General Motors Corp. has done.

Ford previously said it only would offer buyouts to workers at plants slated to be idled as part of a sweeping restructuring plan unveiled in January. The company later began extending the offers to blue-collar employees at factories it took back from Visteon Corp. last year. Now, the automaker is beginning to offer packages to workers at other plants that it has deemed to be overstaffed.

Ford wants to cut the number of its U.S. factory jobs by 30,000 from 87,000 today over the next six years.

"Packages are being offered across the system … but not at all plants," Ford spokeswoman Anne Marie Gattari said. "We're trying to make our system more competitive."

While the company would not officially identify those plants, Ford is offering buyouts to workers at its Woodhaven stamping plant and Walton Hills stamping plant in Ohio, neither of which is scheduled to be closed.

As previously reported, Ford also is offering buyouts to idled workers in Edison, N.J., and Lorain, Ohio, as well as to those at its assembly plant outside St. Louis, which is being closed as part of the restructuring plan.

Workers at Ford's Wixom assembly plant, which is scheduled to shut next year, will be eligible for buyouts beginning Thursday. That is the same day production is scheduled to end on the Lincoln LS sedan, which had been an important product for the factory.

Other facilities scheduled to be shuttered include Ford's Atlanta assembly plant, a transmission factory in Batavia, Ohio, and a casting plant in Windsor. Ford says it will add two more assembly plants to that list by the end of the year.

"We could extend it as the business requires," Gattari said.

Ford has no intention of matching rival GM's move to offer buyouts to all of its hourly employees in the United States, as well as many of those at Delphi Corp., GM's former parts subsidiary, Gattari said.

However, he said Ford's strategy may make more sense, in that it allows the automaker to target only those facilities that are overstaffed. Offering buyouts to all employees runs the risk of creating imbalances in the factory work force.

"If you take too many people out from an operating plant, you can shut it down," said David Cole, chairman of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor. "This has to be managed very carefully."

Eligible Ford workers can choose from one of five buyout packages:

A $100,000 buyout offer for those who agree to leave Ford and forgo all benefits except pensions they have accrued.

An educational opportunity program that provides workers with at least one year of seniority with up to $15,000 a year for tuition to an accredited school of their choice for up to four years. They will receive full medical benefits and half their regular pay while they attend school.

Two early retirement programs. The first is for workers 55 and older who have 30 or more years with the company. They will receive a $35,000 check and begin retirement with full benefits. The other program is for workers 50 and older with 10 or more years at the company. They will be provided a fixed income for life, though not as much as they would receive through the regular retirement program. The amount of this payment will vary from worker to worker.

A special pre-retirement leave program for workers with 28 years of service but not yet 30 years. Ford will allow those workers to take a leave -- and they will receive 85 percent of their pay -- until they reach 30 years of service.

Even with these offers on the table, many workers are reluctant to leave what has been a lucrative career.

John Kotronis, who has put in 13 years at Wixom, is one of them. He does not plan to take a buyout.

"I'm still worried about the future though," Kotronis said.

The educational opportunity program is an important component of Ford's downsizing strategy, Cole said.

"They have a younger work force than GM and Delphi," he said. "The pool of people eligible to retire is not as great."

However, Joe Laymon, Ford's group vice president in charge of human resources and labor affairs, said the company is having some difficulty convincing younger workers to go back to school. He told The News last week that Ford is planning forums to further explain the benefits of the program and encourage workers to take advantage of it.
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