Ford Auto Workers Weigh Buyout Options

The Associated Press
Tuesday, December 26, 2006; 3:09 PM

DETROIT -- Scott Swiercz smoked a cigarette and drank a beer at The Final Score lounge, mulling the biggest gamble of his life. Ford Motor Co. had offered him and its 75,000 other U.S. hourly workers a choice of buyout packages.

One option: A $100,000 lump sum payment to completely sever his relationship with Ford; taking the money would mean no job and no health care. For Swiercz, 40, who has two ex-wives and pays $157.50 each week in child support for his 14-year-old son, taking the buyout would be the equivalent of a third divorce. The math just didn't work.

The cheapest health insurance he found cost $450 a month. Then there was the child support. "I don't mind paying it," he said. "I wish I could give more." That totaled $1,080 each month before he paid rent or put gas in the car.

Like all hourly workers, he had to make a decision by Nov. 27. He chose to stay on the production line at Ford's Woodhaven Stamping Plant, where he's weeks away from hitting 11 years seniority. The decision feels "100 percent" like a gamble, he said.

He's gambling that the plant will stay open. He's gambling that, if it does, enough workers will take buyouts so Ford can avoid layoffs there. He's gambling that a worker from a closing plant who has more seniority won't bump him off the job.

"A lot of people I talk to say, 'It's just like craps. It's a roll of the dice,'" he said.

For hourly workers at Ford, making a decision on the buyout offers required a combination of economic calculations and soul searching. Some 38,000 Ford workers _ roughly half of Ford's U.S. hourly work force _ said they would take one of Ford's eight buyout packages. Workers can rescind their acceptance until their last day of work. Those who do go will start leaving the company in January, the rest will be gone by September.

The workers who are staying are every bit as nervous as those starting over.

The Woodhaven plant still runs three shifts, including a midnight crew of machinists who tend to equipment that dates back to the end of World War II. Workers there got good news the Friday before Christmas, when Ford said it would be one of six plants where the company plans to invest a total of $1 billion, in exchange for $151 million in tax incentives from the state.

The buyout and the future have been the dominant topic of conversation there for six months, Swiercz said.

"You talk to 25 people a day, that's what 10 people are talking about," he said. "Not, 'How are your kids?' or 'What are you doing for Christmas?' (It's) 'You taking the buyout?'

"Everybody's worried about everything now," Swiercz said.

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© 2006 The Associated Press