- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 14, 2006

DETROIT (AP) — Ford Motor Co. will offer buyout and early retirement plans to all of its hourly U.S. employees — more than 75,000 of them — as part of a broad restructuring plan aimed at cutting its costs in light of slumping sales.

Ford confirmed the plans yesterday after union officials disclosed the company would make the buyout offers of up to $140,000 each to workers.

The automaker had about 82,000 workers represented by the United Auto Workers (UAW) at the end of last year, but about 6,500 have taken previous buyout and early retirement offers made mainly at plants slated for closure, spokeswoman Marcey Evans said. The new offer would cover the remaining unionized workers.

The news came a day before the nation’s second-biggest automaker was to reveal details of a restructuring plan that likely will include massive job cuts and additional plant closures.

The buybacks are aimed at helping Ford cut costs as its sales shrink under fierce competition from more fuel-efficient models from Asian automakers.

The UAW announced the proposal to its members yesterday, saying the offers are available to all active Ford workers represented by the union.

“Once again, our members are stepping up to make hard choices under difficult circumstances,” UAW President Ron Gettelfinger said. “Now, it’s Ford Motor Co.’s responsibility to lead this company in a positive direction — which means using the skills, experience and dedication to quality that UAW members demonstrate every day in order to deliver quality vehicles to customers.”

The buyouts are part of a larger restructuring plan approved by the Ford board of directors during a two-day meeting that ended yesterday. Ford said it would announce details of the new plan this morning.

Ford shares fell 10 cents 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 Anne Stevens, an architect of the automaker’s restructuring effort and one of the auto industry’s highest-ranking women, is retiring. Mrs. Stevens, 57, had been at the center of Ford’s turnaround efforts since October 2005, when she was named executive vice president.

Ford has been battered by the auto market’s shift from trucks and sport utility vehicles to more fuel-efficient cars and crossovers. Its market share and sales have dropped while its Japanese competitors have gained.

Under the plan, detailed in a UAW statement, workers can choose among eight packages that offer from $35,000 to $140,000 depending on their years of service and how close they are to retirement age.

“I think it’s a good package,” said Chris Kimmons, president of UAW Local 919 at the Norfolk assembly plant.

“I think they worked real hard on it. They’ve got to do something to help Ford out of this crisis.”

Depending on which plan is chosen, workers may have to give up health benefits.

Ford lost $1.4 billion during the first half of the 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 cutting up to 30,000 jobs and closing 14 facilities by 2012.

A Detroit newspaper reported yesterday that the automaker could lose up to $9 billion this year, including the costs of a massive restructuring plan.

The Detroit News reported that Chief Financial Officer Don Leclair’s office has said in a financial forecast report that Ford’s global automotive operations will post a pretax loss of $5.6 billion to $5.9 billion this year.

Once restructuring costs are factored in, the loss could widen to $9 billion, the newspaper said, citing a senior Ford official who it said had firsthand knowledge of the report.

The report said most of the loss would come from Ford’s North American operations.

Company spokeswoman Becky Sanch said Ford would not discuss the report.

“Those aren’t numbers that we shared, and we’re not commenting,” she said.

Ford recorded the largest net loss in its history in 1992, $7.4 billion, but most of it was because of accounting changes. Ford also posted a $5.5 billion net loss in 2001, partly because of a restructuring plan.

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