HAZELWOOD, Mo. — Over 1,900 Ford employees here will soon be out of a job. As part of a broad restructuring effort, dubbed ‘Way Forward,’ Ford Motor Company plans to idle production and begin laying off workers by March 10.

Nationally, six other plants will also get the ax. By 2008, 30,000 Ford employees will be out of a job. Last year, Ford handed out 10,000 pink slips.

On Wall Street, Ford’s restructuring plan boosted investor confidence. Shares rose 5.3 percent after the layoffs were announced. Ford also kicked off the new year with a 19 percent rise in fourth-quarter profits. While Ford’s North American division lost $1.6 billion last year, overall the multinational auto giant is in great shape. It recently boasted of a third straight year of profits.

Ken Dearing, president of the United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 325, which represents the Hazelwood workers, told the World, “We’re fighters. We’re going to keep fighting. Our members’ security, their hopes and dreams are hanging by a thread. Nobody here is giving up.”

Ford currently holds 18.3 percent of the U.S. car sales market, down from 25.7 percent in 1998. Simply put, Ford is over-producing and most North American plants are operating at 20 percent below production capacity. According to Dearing, “The plant’s productivity isn’t in question. This is a capacity problem.”

“Ford is taking care of its shareholders, while our members pay the price,” said Dearing.

The Hazelwood plant received a President’s Quality Award last fall and is considered one of the most productive Ford plants in the country.

The UAW, with local and state political leaders, saved the Hazelwood plant in 2003, the first time it was on the chopping block, but prospects look grim this time around. While the plant isn’t closed yet, according to Ford it would cost too much to retool. Many UAW members are beginning to prepare for the worst.

However, thanks to the union, once the plant idles, Hazelwood UAW members are eligible for Supplemental Unemployment Benefits (SUB), a program started by the UAW in the 1950s in response to the industry’s seasonal employment cycle. With the SUB package and regular unemployment compensation combined, most UAW members will receive around 95 percent of their after-tax base pay for up to 48 weeks during the life of the existing contract, which expires in September 2007. If the SUB package is exhausted before that time, the union contract requires Ford to pay workers their base pay under the Guaranteed Employment Number program until the same date.

Missouri state Rep. John Bowman, a 29-year UAW member, told the World, “Very qualified, skilled workers will be out of a job. We have some time and we’ll keep fighting. Ford’s priorities are profits. But we’re not giving up on our union brothers and sisters.”

Hazelwood Ford employees aren’t the only workers feeling the heat. According to Kevin Madden of the St. Louis Labor Tribune, every auto industry job supports 4.6 jobs in other industries. Layoffs would cause “a devastating ripple effect on stores, bars, restaurants, suppliers and taxes in the area,” Madden writes.

One local parts plant is already in trouble. The Lear Corp., which employs around 250 people who make seats for Ford SUV’s, will likely face layoffs once the Ford plant idles. And the Hazelwood school district will lose an estimated $3.3 million annually in property taxes.

According to Dearing, between 7,000 and 11,000 jobs will be impacted. “The bowling alley, McDonald’s, everybody will be affected. This will devastate the community,” he said.

“We are still hoping to find a solution. We’re staying focused,” Dearing continued. “The membership hasn’t faltered. They are holding their heads high. They just want to build a quality product. They just want to work.”

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