Ford plant closing could be delayedby Martin Moylan, Minnesota Public Radio
The shutdown of the Ford truck manufacturing plant in St. Paul could be pushed back for a year. A proposed contract for Ford workers includes a one-year extension for running the factory.
St. Paul, Minn. — The contract proposal for members of the United Auto Workers includes a two-tier wage scale, changes in health care funding for retirees, and promises to delay or scrap plans for plant closings. Locally, the closing of Ford's plant in St. Paul's Highland Park neighborhood would be postponed for a year.
The plant, which makes Ford Ranger trucks, had been slated to close in 2008. Ranger truck sales have been slipping. So far this year, sales are down about 20 percent.
About 900 union workers remain at the St. Paul plant. A like number lost their jobs, as the plant started to wind down operations.
Roger Terveen, president of UAW Local 879, expects many workers will welcome the chance to stay on the job in St. Paul plant for another year.
"I'm happy for the membership," he said. "We got a lot of members who would like to work for another year. So, this gives them the chance to do that."
A nationwide ratification vote on the contract is expected to conclude by next Monday.
A union summary of the proposed contract gives no indication that the reprieve for the St. Paul plant could last beyond a year. The summary simply says no alternative product has been identified for the plant and the plant will close sometime in 2009.
The contract would allow Ford to hire new workers at about $14 per hour -- roughly half its current average factory wage. But the proposed pact would raise wages for workers already on Ford's payroll. The average Ford assembly worker would get about $13,000 in additional pay over four years.
Terveen said it's a pretty good deal, given Ford's troubles of late. But he wouldn't predict how the ratification vote will go.
"It's a pretty good contract across the board, considering the kind of position Ford is in," he said. "Again, it's the membership that decides whether to accept the contract or reject it."
Ford lost nearly $13 billion in 2006. And Ford's share of the U.S. auto market has slipped to about 15 percent.
St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman welcomed the one-year delay in the Ford Plant's closing as good news for the city and the plant's workers.
"We're very happy for the workers that are there," he said. "They'll at least have a job for another year. It's always been our goal: If there was anyway to keep that plant open as long as possible to do so."
The Ford plant site covers about 125 acres. And the city of St. Paul hopes to redevelop the property after the factory closes.
Peter Amstrong, a member of both the Ford plant task force and the Highland district council, said a one-year delay in the plant's closing doesn't matter when it comes to development plans.
"In terms of long-range planning, I don't think another year is going to make much difference," he said. "If anything, it gives the community more opportunity to explore doing the right thing."
Ford has manufactured vehicles at the St. Paul site for more than 80 years. Armstrong said the outcome of studies assessing pollution at the site will be critical in determining how the property is used in the future.
- Morning Edition, 11/06/2007, 6:28 a.m.