October 30, 2014

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Future of Avon Lake Ford plant hinges on UAW talks

AVON LAKE — The fate of the Ohio Assembly Plant in Avon Lake rests with the United Auto Workers, city officials said.

The possibility that Ford Motor Co.’s Avon Lake plant could close was floated by the company to the union’s national negotiators during recent contract talks in which Ford sought favorable contract terms in exchange for keeping open plants that were slated to close, according to a story published Tuesday by The Detroit News.

CHRONICLE FILE
The Ohio Assembly Plant in Avon Lake

And, while UAW and Ford are not commenting about ongoing negotiations, Avon Lake Mayor Rob Berner said the article is not shocking.

“At this point, saving the plant comes down to labor negotiations,” Berner said. “Right not, it’s not about government incentives any more. Ford is not optimistic that our labor unions want to play ball.”

Tim Donovan, president of the UAW Local 2000 in Avon Lake, did not return messages left for him Thursday.

Just a few weeks ago, Berner touted the possibility of the Avon Lake plant expanding, and hundreds of new jobs being added to the area as a result. That job figure would have included Ford workers and workers at companies supplying material to the plant, he has said.

At that time, Berner said the city was working on a development package to entice Ford to choose Avon Lake over two other plants that were also in the running for expansion, which Berner said were plants in Louisville, Ky., and in Wayne, Mich.

According to the Detroit News story, the Wayne Stamping and Assembly Plant in Wayne, Mich., is in the same boat as Avon Lake’s plant — its fate hinges on what happens at the negotiating table.

The Avon Lake plant makes the Econoline vans, and it employs 2,579 people, according to Ford’s Web site.

In a bid to secure expansion at the plant, Berner and state officials teamed to put together a package to offer Ford that included a plan to extend Pin Oak Parkway from Moore Road to Miller Road and have the city contribute $400,000 toward the project and abate the company’s taxes for 10 years, which would have equaled or exceeded the state’s own incentive of more than $60 million.

Berner

Berner said he was optimistic at the time but that the Ford workers union took the announcement as a vote of confidence that the Avon Lake plant would stay open.

“They will close the Ohio Assembly Plant if they can’t get what they want, and it is not a question of making concessions. It’s about the work force,” Berner said.

But the plant’s productivity should not come into question, said John Hunter, a longtime United Auto Workers union representative not affiliated with the negotiations.

“The Ohio Assembly Plant is very competitive. It’s productive and has received numerous JD Power and Associate awards,” Hunter said.

But that’s not what an unnamed source told the Detroit newspaper — the source characterized the plant as “uncompetitive,” which Berner said isn’t far from the truth.

“People don’t show up for work. Productivity is not cost-effective. What they are spending and what they are putting out the door is not cost-effective. It’s not competitive,” he said.

The company and the United Auto Workers are still at the bargaining table.

While the city is in no way gearing up for the closure of the plant, Berner said that from a treasurer’s standpoint, the city will survive in the event that it does happen even though the plant provides roughly 40 percent of the tax revenue collected by the city.

Contact Lisa Roberson at 653-6268 or lroberson@chroniclet.com.