Ford pulls some buyout offers after heavy employee requests

The Baltimore Sun

DETROIT -- Ford Motor Co.'s buyout plan drew an overwhelming response from white-collar employees in parts of the company, prompting the automaker to begin saying no to some offers.

Employees who thought they had buyout deals were shocked and angry after learning that the offers were being pulled, some Ford workers told the Detroit Free Press.

Yesterday was the final day for workers to accept buyouts.

"They got more retirements than they bargained for," a longtime Ford engineer said. He and others asked that their names not be printed for fear of retribution.

Ford spokeswoman Marcey Evans would not confirm whether buyouts were withdrawn, but said the moves were possible if some areas of the company "received more acceptances than they were able to accommodate."

She said workers who signed up for the voluntary separation program were informed from the onset that "they were not all guaranteed to be approved."

But some workers felt stung.

"People are furious," said an employee in the company's marketing department. "Do you hear me? Furious, with a capital 'F.' Crying. ... They may have to relocate, and they may have to take a lower-paying job. It's just horrible the way people are being treated."

Ford employees who want to leave the company still can quit, but "they're just not going to get the money," she said.

Workers who talked to the Free Press said the high take rate on buyouts - for hourly and salaried workers - shows that employees have shaken confidence about management and the future of 103-year-old Ford, which lost a record $12.7 billion in 2006 and is struggling to get its turnaround plan on track.

As part of its Way Forward turnaround plan, Ford began offering salaried workers three buyout packages in September 2006 in an effort to eliminate 10,000 positions. That was in addition to 4,000 salaried jobs slashed earlier last year.

Ford also targeted 30,000 hourly factory jobs to be eliminated. The company used eight enticing buyout packages, such as $100,000 lump-sum payouts or tuition reimbursement.

Last fall, Ford reported that 38,000 United Auto Workers members signed up for buyouts during a six-week window that opened Oct. 16 and closed Nov. 27. Some workers from plants that are being idled, such as a truck plant in Norfolk, Va., have started being relocated to factories that will remain open, such as Dearborn Truck in Michigan, where vacancies have been created as a result of buyouts or added shifts.

But the window for salaried workers to accept one of three buyout programs, which were offered in waves, closed yesterday.

In recent months, as workers decided whether to take a package, salaried workers such as engineers, lawyers and information technology experts had worried that Ford wouldn't hit its targets, resulting in layoffs anyway.

Now, it looks like more workers would like to leave than Ford had expected.

But rescinding buyout offers for workers who want to leave is corrosive to Ford's already-dismal morale, a few of the employees told the Free Press.

"My manager told me he knows everybody is looking for a new job," the marketing employee said. "I'm just disgusted with the entire company."

According to a recent assessment of Ford's turnaround progress - labeled Report Card: Ford North America - less than half of Ford's employees, or 47 percent, have confidence in the company's long-term success.

The report showed that, while Ford is more than achieving its cost-cutting targets, the company is performing far worse in the marketplace than expected. Its retail market share dipped below 10 percent last month.

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