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Ford dangles more buyouts

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Ford dangles more buyouts

Sweetened retirement offers are aimed at trimming 3,500 jobs at former Visteon plants.

Bryce G. Hoffman / The Detroit News

Ford Motor Co. is offering several buyout packages -- including one that provides free college tuition -- to about 3,500 blue-collar workers at the factories it took back from Visteon Corp. last fall.

Though Visteon was spun off from Ford in 2000, its UAW-represented factory workers remained Ford employees. Under the terms of last year's agreement, Ford assumed responsibility for most of Visteon's North American manufacturing operations and won approval from the United Auto Workers to cut 5,000 hourly jobs through buyouts and early-retirement incentives.

An initial early retirement offer convinced only about 1,500 workers to leave the company. Now Ford said it will extend to the former Visteon factories the same buyout packages that it is offering workers at Ford plants that are being shuttered as part of its own restructuring.

"I don't like to see any buyouts, because it means less people in the union," said Eugene Morey, president of UAW Local 849, which represents workers at the former Visteon factory in Ypsilanti. "But it's better than layoffs."

The buyouts are being offered to the 11,900 UAW members at the Ypsilanti plant and 10 other factories that were transferred to Automotive Components Holdings LLC, a Ford-run holding company that was set up as part of the deal between the automaker and Visteon to prepare those properties for sale or closure.

Workers at some ACH plants have already been offered the packages. Ford plans to roll out the offers at the rest of U.S. plants in the coming weeks.

Hourly workers at those plants will now be eligible for these options:

A $100,000 buyout offer for those who agree to leave ACH 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. Those workers 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 -- where they will receive 85 percent of their pay -- until they reach 30 years of service.

To help workers at the ACH plants understand their options, the company is organizing a series of "opportunity fairs" to explain the benefit packages and introduce workers to recruiters from colleges, universities and trade schools.

While the packages are being offered to all eligible employees, the number may be limited at those plants that ACH plans to sell.

"If we get more employees interested in buyouts than the plant can let go and continue operations, then those with the greatest seniority would be given the first opportunity," said ACH spokeswoman Della DiPietro.

At this point, the former Visteon factories in Ypsilanti and Chesterfield Township are slated for closure.

DiPietro said ACH has had plenty of interest from prospective buyers for the other facilities.

"We're in conversations with a number of folks," she said, adding that more than 100 companies have expressed interest in buying one or more of the domestic plants, as well as three other former Visteon factories in Mexico.

DiPietro said ACH expects to begin accepting bids on a few of the facilities in the next few months.

ACH also is getting ready to roll out new work rules at its U.S. factories.

While each factory negotiated its own operating agreement, they all include a reduction in the number of job classifications and stricter attendance rules. "We now have competitive operating agreements at all of our U.S. facilities," DiPietro said.

"We are in the process of communicating with all employees about these agreements."

Morey said workers in Ypsilanti will be briefed on their new agreement next week.

His local accepted the reduction in job classifications in exchange for more training.

"The majority of our people understand the competitive nature of the business we're in," Morey said.

Link: http://www.detnews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/artic.../602230402/1148

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