Ford to shuffle hourly workers to meet SUV demand

Ian Thibodeau
The Detroit News
LOUISVILLE, KY-OCTOBER 27: The all-new 2018 Ford Expedition SUV goes through the assembly line at the Ford Kentucky Truck Plant October 27, 2017 in Louisville, Kentucky. Ford recently invested $900 million in the plant for upgrades to build the all-new Expedition and Lincoln Navigator, securing 1000 hourly U.S. jobs. (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

Even as General Motors Co. is planning to idle four U.S. plants affecting 3,300 hourly jobs, rival Ford Motor Co. is moving to trim car production without idling a plant.

The automaker plans to move 500 hourly employees from its Flat Rock Assembly Plant where it builds cars to its Livonia plant to build transmissions for in-demand trucks and SUVs. Ford said Wednesday its Flat Rock plant, where it builds the Ford Mustang and Lincoln Continental sedan, will go down to a one-shift schedule in the spring. That will displace 650 full-time hourly employees.

Five hundred of those people will be moved to Ford's Livonia Transmission. The remaining 150 will be offered jobs at other Ford plants, spokeswoman Kelli Felker said Wednesday. The automaker also will shift 500 people to its Kentucky Truck Plant to build full-size SUVs and trucks.

“We have been informed by Ford that due to sales, there will be scheduled work reductions at the Flat Rock, MI and Louisville, KY plants," UAW Vice President Rory Gamble, head of the union's Ford department, said in a statement. "Our collectively bargained contract provides for the placement of all members displaced by the shift reduction and, after working with Ford, we are confident that all impacted employees will have the opportunity to work at nearby facilities. The UAW will be working with our members to ensure they have continuous work and help minimize, as much as possible, any hardship on members and their families.”

 The Lincoln Navigator — like Cadillac’s Escalade — never succumbed to the brand’s alphanumeric naming strategy.

The news comes two days after crosstown-rival GM announced its on-going restructuring would idle three plants that make sedans, a transmission plant in Warren and one of two assembly plants in Oshawa, Ont. The Detroit automaker also plans to eliminate 8,000 salaried workers to reduce costs.

Ford is deep in a restructuring expected to cost the automaker $11 billion, including cuts to the global salaried workforce. According to an internal memo from UAW Local 3000 Chairman Larry Stewart, the UAW expects about 50 positions to open up at Ford's Dearborn Truck Plant, where the automaker builds the F-150.

"Basically everybody who has a job will keep a job," Felker said. 

Congresswoman Debbie Dingell, D-Michigan, in a statement said she was "deeply disturbed" that Ford is eliminating a shift in Flat Rock, but praised the automaker's move to retain jobs.

"Ford’s announcement today continues to be a warning about the strength of the auto industry in this country," said Dingell. "We all must pay attention to what this means for workers, the industry, and the whole economy."

The Livonia plant currently builds transmissions for Ford F-150s, Rangers, Navigators and other trucks and SUVs. The automaker is also shifting 500 jobs to its Kentucky Truck Plant from Louisville Assembly Plant in effort to increase Expedition and Lincoln Navigator production by 20 percent. 

The Louisville plant, which builds Escape and the Lincoln MKC, will move to a two-shift schedule in the spring.

Twitter: @Ian_Thibodeau