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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, September 15, 2006

Ford to offer buyout, early retirement to all hourly workers

By Tom Krisher
Associated Press

Workers left Ford's Wixom Assembly Plant early this year in Wixom, Mich. The United Auto Workers announced the company will offer a buyout or early retirement to all hourly workers.


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DETROIT Ford Motor Co. plans to expand buyout and early retirement offers to the company's entire U.S. hourly work force of 75,000 as part of a broader restructuring plan aimed at restoring the troubled No. 2 automaker to profitability.

One day before Ford was to detail the huge restructuring plan, the move was announced yesterday by the United Auto Workers union. Ford hasn't said how many workers it hopes will take the offers, but it has previously announced plans to cut up to 30,000 hourly jobs by 2012.

The announcement came just after Ford's board of directors, including new Chief Executive Officer Alan Mulally, wrapped up a two-day meeting to approve the restructuring plan designed to cut costs in light of slumping sales.

But the UAW statement only fueled anxiety in Ford plants and offices across North America as workers braced for the announcement of further cuts scheduled for this morning.

Catherine Madden, an auto industry analyst at the consulting company Global Insight Inc., said although not all 75,000 workers will take the packages, the size of the offer illustrates the magnitude of Ford's troubles.

"No matter what, the number reflects the pressure the Ford Motor Co. is under right now," she said. "That's how significant the mounting pressures are on Ford."

The offers also show a realization of Ford's troubles by the UAW, which said in a statement that it agreed to the packages due to the "extraordinary circumstances in the domestic auto industry."

Ford had about 82,000 workers represented by the UAW at the end of last year, but about 6,500 have taken previous buyout and early retirement offers made mainly at plants already slated for closure, company spokeswoman Marcey Evans said yesterday.

UAW President Ron Gettelfinger said its members have made hard choices under difficult circumstances.

"Now, it's Ford Motor Co.'s responsibility to lead this company in a positive direction which means using the skills, experience and dedication to quality that UAW members demonstrate every day in order to deliver quality vehicles to customers," Gettelfinger said in a statement.

Ford has been battered by the auto market's shift from trucks and sport utility vehicles to more fuel-efficient cars and crossovers. Its market share and sales have dropped while its Japanese competitors have gained.

Under the buyout and early retirement plan, detailed in a UAW statement, workers can choose among eight packages that offer from $35,000 to $140,000 depending on their years of service, age and how close they are to retirement age.

"I think it's a good package," said Chris Kimmons, president of UAW Local 919 at the Norfolk, Va., assembly plant. "I think they worked real hard on it. They've got to do something to help Ford out of this crisis."

Depending on which plan is chosen, workers may have to give up health benefits.

The offers are similar to those made earlier this year to hourly workers at the General Motors Corp., where 35,000 people have agreed to leave the company. Ford is the second-largest carmaker in the U.S. after GM.

The announcement also came as UAW local leaders at Ford plants gathered in Detroit to discuss Ford's financial situation and the buyouts.

The Ford board meeting wrapped up yesterday afternoon and the company issued a statement saying it would announce details of the restructuring in a news release at 7 a.m. EDT today, followed at 9 a.m. EDT by presentations to employees and the media.

Mulally, who was hired away from Boeing Co. just last week, attended the board meeting and will be part of today's announcements, the company said.

Ford lost $1.4 billion during the first half of this year and is under pressure from Wall Street to make further cuts and roll out new cars and trucks more quickly.

In July, the company pledged to accelerate its "Way Forward" restructuring plan, which when introduced in January called for up to 30,000 job cuts as well as closing 14 facilities by 2012.

Madden said her company expects Ford to announce the closing of two more plants. Ones that make truck-based sport utility vehicles and cars built on older platforms are likely to be closed, she said.