Ford to offer buyouts to U.S. workers


Associated Press Writer

Ford Motor Co., beaten down by rising costs and stiff competition from Asia, is set to institute significant operational changes designed to rein in expenses and restore the company to profitability.

The changes — in the form of a restructuring plan — were to be outlined by the No. 2 domestic automaker in a news release at 7 a.m. Friday, followed at 9 a.m. by presentations to employees and the media.

On Thursday, the United Auto Workers union announced that Ford plans to expand buyout and early retirement offers to the company's entire U.S. hourly work force of 75,000 as part of the broader restructuring plan.

Ford hasn't said how many blue-collar workers it hopes will take the offers, but it has previously announced plans to cut up to 30,000 hourly jobs by 2012.

The announcement came just after Ford's board of directors, including new Chief Executive Officer Alan Mulally, wrapped up a two-day meeting to approve the restructuring plan designed to cut rising health care and material costs in light of slumping sales. Mulally, who was hired away from Boeing Co. just last week, attended the board meeting and was to be part of Friday's announcements, the company said.

The UAW statement only fueled anxiety in Ford plants and offices across North America as workers braced for the announcement of further cuts Friday morning.

A Ford supervisor who was told of the plan by company officials told The Associated Press on Thursday night that buyout and early retirement offers would also be made to entice 6,000 salaried workers to leave the company. The supervisor did not want to be identified because the plan had not yet been released.

Ford lost $1.4 billion during the first half of this year and is under pressure from Wall Street to make further cuts and roll out new cars and trucks more quickly.

In July, the company pledged to accelerate its "Way Forward" restructuring plan, which when introduced in January called for the up to 30,000 job cuts as well as closing 14 facilities by 2012.

Catherine Madden, an auto industry analyst at the consulting company, Global Insight Inc., said her company expects Ford to announce the closing of two more plants. Ones that make truck-based sport utility vehicles and cars built on older platforms are the most vulnerable, she said.

The scope of the buyout offer could indicate that more than two plants could be closed, Madden said.

Ford shares fell 10 cents Thursday to close at $9.09 on the New York Stock Exchange. Its shares have traded in a 52-week range of $6.06 to $10.09.

Separately, Ford said Thursday that Anne Stevens, an architect of the restructuring effort at Ford and one of the auto industry's highest ranking women, is retiring. Stevens, 57, had been at the center of Ford's turnaround efforts since October 2005, when she was named executive vice president.

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