June 23, 2014 at 10:31 pm

Obama lunches with Ford engineer to talk work/family issues

Roger Trombley, left, joins Lisa Rumain, President Barack Obama, Shelby Ramirez and Shirley Young at a Washington-area Chipotle. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP)

Washington— Ford Motor Co. safety engineer Roger Trombley didn’t want his kids to think he was just the guy who walked through the door of their Ann Arbor home at the end of the day.

So Trombley, 37, became the first man in his department to go to a part-time schedule, in 2009, so he could be with son Dillon. Since then, three other dads in his unit at Ford have followed suit.

Trombley was among four working parents who were lunch guests of President Barack Obama Monday at a Chipotle restaurant, ahead of Obama’s White House summit on working families. The summit was intended to explore ways that employers can enable their workers to spend time with their families.

“I want to see their milestones. I want to really bond with them. I want them to feel comfortable to get that hug, get that kiss,” Trombley said in an interview Monday. In the meantime, his wife — also a Ford engineer — will continue to have her career, too, and not be forced to abandon it to do most of the parenting.

Trombley, who met his wife Shimul Bhuva, 36, when they attended the University of Michigan, has worked at Ford since 2000. She is an ergonomics engineer, and they both work reduced schedules to care for Maya, 2 months old, and 4 ½-year-old Dillon.

Each parent looked after their son on two “home” days, and Bhuva’s mother cared for him on the day that both Mom and Dad were at Ford. With the birth of Maya in April, Trombley is taking three months’ leave.

Ford prides itself on the flexibility it offers its salaried workers; approximately 12 percent participate in a formal flexible work arrangement, and a much larger percentage informally telecommmute or use flextime, said spokeswoman Becky Sanch.

The automaker’s salaried workers can work a reduced schedule of 40-90 percent, and receive prorated pay and benefits; about 600 are doing so, and of those 8.5 percent are male — up from in 2009 when about 5 percent of males were.

Ford salaried workers can opt for a four-day, 40-hour week or four nine-hour days and one four-hour day among alternative work schedules.

Trombley, whose travel to Washington was paid for by Ford, will return to work half-time, and then to 70 percent in September. To get three months of leave, he bought vacation time, exercised unused sick time and stretched out his unused vacation as much as he could; federal law only requires most companies to provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave.

Over lunch, Obama and his guests talked about raising kids — and the president talked about his familiarity with Ann Arbor, and how much he loved Zingerman’s deli..

Trombley, who grew up in Eaton Rapids near Lansing, walked to the restaurant with Obama from a nearby hotel and then got a ride in the presidential limo on the way back. “He was amazingly personable — just a regular guy,” Trombley said.

The grandson and nephew of General Motors workers did notice that he was riding in a Cadillac — not a Ford. Obama helpfully moved a bunch of papers so they could all pile into the limo. “It was a little surreal — reaching around to move stuff to find places for us to sit,” Trombley said.

Still, it was a little tough: Sunday night when he left for Washington was the first time he had been away from his baby girl. “It was a little strange to leave her to come to an event on work life and family,” he said.