Ford Says 25,000 Workers Have Accepted Buyouts; Ohio Plant to Be Closed

Ford Motor Co. (F) said on Monday that 25,000 factory workers had left its payroll after taking buyout offers, and it announced plans to close a Cleveland casting plant and idle a nearby engine plant for a year.

Ford, which posted a record loss of $12.7 billion in 2006 and another $282 million loss in the first quarter, is in a four-year turnaround plan announced in 2006 that aims to cut 16 plants and up to 45,000 jobs.

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About 38,000 Ford workers, including workers from the automaker's Automotive Component Holdings subsidiary, initially accepted buyout offers, which the company offered last year under an agreement with the United Auto Workers union.

About 2,000 of those who accepted buyouts later rescinded their acceptance of the offers, leaving another 11,000 Ford workers that could leave under the sweeping buyout program.

"We're ahead of our schedule in terms of what we planned for in employees leaving," Joe Hinrichs, Ford's vice president of North America manufacturing told reporters.

Hinrichs said that with the planned closing of the Cleveland casting plant, Ford had named 10 of the 16 plants that it plans to close as part of its restructuring effort.

Ford's contract with the United Auto Workers union prohibits the automaker from closing most factories unilaterally. The automaker can, however, suspend production indefinitely.

"The casting business is just not central to where we're allocating our capital," Hinrichs said, noting that none of Ford's fast-growing Asian rivals operate their own casting operations in North America.

"This is a business that requires substantial capital investment and we think it's better to have our suppliers do it for us," he told reporters on a conference call.

Hinrichs said Ford will reopen its buyout program, which was offered to Ford's entire work force a year ago, to Cleveland employees.

Ford said it also planned to suspend production at its Cleveland Engine Plant No. 1 for about a year, beginning in two weeks, because of lower-than-projected sales.

That plant makes a 3.5-liter V6 engine for the Ford Edge crossover and the recently re-christened Ford Taurus sedan, which had been marketed under the Ford 500 name. The plant employs about 530 hourly workers and 47 salaried workers, Ford said.

The Cleveland Casting Plant makes cast-iron components for engines for Ford pickup trucks and SUVs. It employs 1,100 hourly workers and 118 salaried workers, the company said.

Workers at the Cleveland facilities who don't accept buyout offers are expected to be placed in Ford's "Jobs Bank," a UAW-negotiated program that pays near-full wages and benefits to laid-off workers.

Ford shares were down 5 cents at $8.17 on the New York Stock Exchange in afternoon trading.

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