Sunday, January 28, 2001

Plant lays off workers

Drop in demand dooms Sharonville Ford rookies

By James Pilcher
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        SHARONVILLE — Ford Motor Co. has laid off 203 workers from its transmission plant here, citing a decline in customer demand.

        But while company and local United Auto Workers union officials said Friday's announcement was “painful,” they said it could have been worse.

        “When they came back after Christmas and we initially started talking about layoffs, we were talking about a considerably larger number than 203,” UAW Local 863 president R.D. “Sonny” Blevins said Saturday, declining to give specifics about what number of layoffs had been proposed. “The last I heard late in the week was that it would be about 175. But, still, the company and union locally did an excellent job in keeping those people.”

        Employees who lost their jobs had about six months' experience or less and were making about $16 an hour, Ford spokeswoman Della DiPietro said Saturday. They learned their fate late Friday afternoon, and the layoffs go into effect Monday.

        The move is one of a growing list of layoffs in the area and throughout the Midwest. On Friday, Silgan Plastics Corp. of West Chester Township announced it was closing its plant beginning in April, meaning the loss of 151 jobs.

        Last October, International Paper said it was cutting 350 jobs at its Knightsbridge complex in Hamilton. And Newport Steel this month said it was cutting 450 jobs for what it called seasonal layoffs.

        Throughout Ohio in 2000, the number of workers affected by layoffs or closings was a record high 19,428 — up 34 percent from 1998.

        The Ford cuts are “indefinite” layoffs, not scheduled work slowdowns, meaning the company cannot guarantee if or when the workers will get their jobs back, Mrs. DiPietro said.

        The Sharonville cuts were the only such layoffs Ford planned nationally, Mrs. DiPietro said, even though Ford reported an $814 million drop in profits for fourth quarter 2000 compared with the same quarter in 1999.

        The Sharonville plant was especially vulnerable, because it produces four-speed transmissions for larger vehicles ranging from F-series pickup trucks to the Mercury Mountaineer and Grand Marquis — which analysts say could fall out of favor as gas prices continue to stay high and the economy continues to slow.

        “Our inventories are higher than ideal, and we are trying to adjust our production to be more in line with current consumer demand,” Mrs. DiPietro said. “It was a very difficult decision, and our hearts go out to those impacted by this.”

        Because of their lack of seniority, the affected workers will not qualify for union pay protection, and will receive only state unemployment benefits — a maximum of $407 a week for someone with three dependents.

        Over the past year, the plant expanded its workforce from 2,450 to 3,000.Friday's layoff was the first major job reduction at the plant since 1986, when the company cut 1,450 jobs.


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