USA: Politicians and unions eye ways to keep Ford plants open

By just-auto.com editorial team | 5 December 2005

Ford workers and local officials plan to do everything in their power to keep plants open after a report suggested Ford is considering closing five North American plants as part of a major restructuring.

Lawmakers and union officials told the Associated Press (AP) they would pile on tax breaks or change plant work rules to encourage Ford to stay. In Minnesota a top Republican politician, said he wouldn't rule out pushing for a special session of the state legislature to consider incentives for keeping a plant in St. Paul.

AP noted that the Wall Street Journal reported last Friday that Ford is likely to close assembly plants in St. Louis, Atlanta and St. Paul under a still-evolving restructuring plan - it cited two unidentified people familiar with the automaker's product plans.

The newspaper reportedly said an engine parts plant in Windsor, Ontario, and a truck-assembly plant in Cuautitlan, Mexico, also were slated for closure.

Ford declined to comment about the WSJ report to just-auto on Friday.

According to The Associated Press, if Ford closes the plants, it would deal another blow to US autoworkers, already reeling from a plan announced last month by General Motors to close 12 North American facilities and cut 30,000 jobs. The nation's car manufacturers are suffering from declining sales, especially of sport utility vehicles, even as the cost of labour and health care rises.

AP added that, together, the Ford plants cited in Friday's report employ around 7,000 people of a total workforce of 122,877 North American employees at the end of last year.

Ford chairman and CEO Bill Ford has said the company is working on a restructuring plan and will reveal details in January. Bill Ford said in October the plan will include "significant" job cuts and plant closures, The Associated Press noted, adding that Ford is only using around 86% of its North American assembly plant capacity, compared to 107% at rival Toyota - Ford has 23 assembly plants in North America.

Ford spokesman Oscar Suris told just-auto on Friday that Ford would make an announcement on production capacity changes in January.

At the Ford plant in Cuautitlan, just north of Mexico City, unionists told AP that rumours about downsizing have been floating around for some time, and the 750 workers there are willing to discuss labour changes to keep the plant open.

"We believe that we represent a good business opportunity for Ford," Juan Jose Sosa, the national representative for the Ford workers union in Mexico, told The Associated Press. "We are open to considering reasonable alternatives ... and a better use of labour," he said.

Danny Sparks, head of the local union at the Ford plant in Hapeville, Georgia, near Atlanta, told the news agency the report of a possible closure came as a surprise.

"We're one of the most efficient plants Ford has. The Atlanta employees have a long history of stepping up to the task at hand," Sparks reportedly said.