December 20, 2014

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Ford workers ‘blindsided’ by layoff announcement

By Chelsea Miller and Evan Goodenow

The Chronicle-Telegram

Ford Motor Co.'s Ohio Assembly Plant in Avon Lake is seen in this 2011 file photo. The plant announced Monday that it will lay off more than half of its workforce.

Ford Motor Co.’s Ohio Assembly Plant in Avon Lake is seen in this 2011 file photo. The plant announced Tuesday that it will lay off more than half of its workforce. CHRONICLE FILE PHOTO

AVON LAKE — Only employees with 22 years or more of seniority will keep their jobs after about 900 upcoming layoffs at Ford Motor Co.’s Ohio Assembly Plant.

This was according to a letter from plant manager Jeff Carrier to Tim Rowe, United Auto Workers Local 2000 chairman. The Monday letter said Carrier was notified by Ford that layoffs would occur in August after extended downtime while the plant is retooled for production of two new vehicle lines.

The layoffs of about half of the 1,866 plant workers were confirmed Tuesday night by Ford spokeswoman Kristina Adamski. She wouldn’t say whether the workers would be recalled, but Lorain County Commissioner Tom Williams said he was told by Gov. John Kasich’s administration that the layoffs are temporary.

Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols said he couldn’t speak for Ford and didn’t know if the layoffs were permanent or temporary. Nichols said he didn’t know if Ford notified anyone in the Kasich administration or any state agencies before workers being notified.

Rowe and other UAW officials didn’t return calls Wednesday. In a letter distributed at the plant in which he responded to Carrier’s letter, Rowe wrote that the layoffs would continue until the launch of the F-650 and F-750. The launch is scheduled for the second quarter of 2015.

“Going to one shift leaves roughly half of our workforce with the potential reality of having to uproot their families and transferring to other locations,” he wrote.

Mary Springowksi, a UAW team leader at the plant, said layoffs were never mentioned at a Sunday rank-and-file meeting and workers were “blindsided.” She said workers were told they would only be sidelined for about five or six weeks for plant retooling for the new vehicle lines.

“Everybody’s quite upset,” said Springowski, who said she was hired in 1991 and isn’t scheduled for a layoff. “They’re not quite sure what’s going on.”

Ford, the state and union reached an agreement in 2011 to move the new lines to the plant from Mexico. The plant produced the Econoline van for years and there were fears the facility might close before the announcement of the production shift from Mexico.

In 2011, just 41,000 of Ford’s 166,000 hourly workers were in the U.S. and just 27 of its 70 plants. Ford is investing $128 million into the Avon Lake facility to expand the plant for the production of F-650 and F-750 trucks.

The expansion and retooling of Ohio Assembly is part of a national $16 billion investment including $6.3 billion to retool and upgrade plants by Ford. The investment was agreed upon in 2011 after the UAW agreed to a four-year contract. The pact includes profit-sharing and $1,500 yearly bonuses rather than the cost of living adjustment frozen in 2009 UAW concessions during the Great Recession.

The Avon Lake investment included a $15 million, 15-year tax credit deal by the Ohio Tax Credit Authority. The deal is contingent on at least 1,400 hourly workers being retained at the plant.

Nichols said Wednesday night that he didn’t know specifics of the deal, but it includes “clawbacks.” Clawbacks mean that a percentage of the tax breaks would be withdrawn based on the number of workers below 1,400.

“Any company that doesn’t live up to the agreement that they signed for incentives, any company, we’ll claw that back,” Nichols said. “But we have every confidence in the world that Ford will not be among those.”

The layoffs come after a Jan. 3 announcement by Ford that 2013 was its best sales year since 2006 with a 14 percent sales increase, and Williams said he’s heard the new vehicle lines are still on track.

However, Rowe wrote to Carrier, the layoffs could hurt the skilled workforce, which he called “priceless.”

“The Company’s intent to initiate this plan will surely have a catastrophic effect on our workforce during this timeframe,” he wrote. “I will not accept this as the final outcome.”

The union wants the company to switch to rotating shifts during the decreased workload instead of one shift proposed by Ford. Adamski said the company is working with the union, and wouldn’t comment on the letter or provide further details.

Contact Chelsea Miller at 329-7123 or cmiller@chroniclet.com.

Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or egoodenow@chroniclet.com.