Workers at Missouri Ford Plant Face Shutdown
STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
You can find a question and answer session on this issue at NPR.org. Among the North American manufacturing facilities Ford plans to close is the Hazelwood Assembly plant near St. Louis. Matt Sepic reports from member station KWMU, that employees and local leaders are trying to figure out what to do next.
MATT SEPIC: The Ford plant here makes Explorer and Mercury Mountaineer SUVs. The models were once very popular but sales dropped nearly 30% last year, in part because of high gas prices. So, news that the factory would go idle March 10th did not come as a shock to employee Cheryl Frager(ph).
CHERYL FRAGER: It was very upsetting but we all knew it was coming. They told us back in 2001 that we would close earlier than this, so we saw the writing on the walls. And it is hard, it's very hard.
SEPIC: The Hazelwood Assembly Plant flirted with closure several years ago. But in 2003, local and state officials worked out a tax incentive deal with Ford to keep the facility open through 2007. That's when the company's contract with the United Auto Workers expires. Technically, Ford will have to negotiate with the UAW to close the plant, though the company is allowed to let it sit idle. Hazelwood Mayor, T.R. Carr, acknowledges it will be an uphill battle but he says he hasn't lost hope that Ford will reverse its decision.
CARR: They're looking for innovation, they're looking for opportunity, they're looking for profit centers. We intend to, through our negotiations, through our dialogue with Ford Motor Company, to demonstrate that you cannot find a better profit center than the Hazelwood Assembly Plant, due to the productivity of the men and women of local UAW 325.
SEPIC: Besides the SUV slump, age is the other big strike against the St. Louis plant, it first opened in 1948. Competitors like Toyota and Honda have much newer facilities and it's much easier and cheaper for those companies to change vehicle models as consumer tastes change. St. Louis Business Analyst, Juli Niemann, says, given that fact there is no way Ford can keep the Hazelwood factory open. She says, instead of bargaining with the company, local leaders should be busy attracting new employers and union leaders should be helping their members make the transition.
JULI NIEMANN: When you buy time like this hopefully everybody is out re-training, looking for jobs, gives you time to deal with what appears to be the inevitable. That didn't happen. I think everybody was just in denial about what was going to happen.
SEPIC: Assembly line worker, Oscar Johnson(ph), says he's proud to work at one of Ford's most productive facilities but he concedes he still hasn't figured out what to do next.
OSCAR JOHNSON: My plan is to keep coming to work every day, hoping and praying that something comes up and take it one day at a time.
SEPIC: For NPR News, I'm Matt Sepic in St. Louis.
INSKEEP: And by the way, Ford's share of the U.S. market is the lowest it's been since 1920. This is Morning Edition from NPR News, I'm Steve Inskeep.
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