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LIVONIA, Mich. — For Rick McDonald, the biggest gamble of his young life comes down to whether he believes Ford Motor Co. can turn itself around.

Part of him says it can. Another part wonders. So at 38, the electrician at a transmission plant in the Detroit suburb of Livonia has to decide between staying and embedding his future with the wounded automaker or taking one of the buyout packages Ford is offering as it tries to further pare its blue-collar work force.

"I bleed blue," McDonald said, referring to Ford's blue oval logo, which is among the assets the company has mortgaged to stay afloat. "I want to be here."

Yet departure is tempting. Ford is offering 10 buyout and early retirement packages to thin its hourly ranks. It wants to shrink factory capacity to match its lower market share.

The company also is hoping that enough people leave so it can replace them with workers who make about half the $28 per hour that Ford pays factory workers in the United Auto Workers union. The deadline is Tuesday.

For younger workers like McDonald, there are options for education and for those who want to start businesses.

McDonald grew up and lives "Downriver," Detroit shorthand for a hodgepodge of blue-collar suburbs stacked against the Detroit River as it flows south from downtown into Lake Erie. Because of family ties, he would rather not move with his wife and two young children.

When he left another Detroit-area company to work at Ford more than seven years ago, a job with the automaker was considered the ultimate in blue-collar work with great money, benefits and hours — someplace you would stay the rest of your life.

But Ford's fortunes have changed since then, losing

$2.7-billion last year and $12.6-billion the year before. It mortgaged its assets to borrow up to $23.4-billion to pay bills and fund a turnaround plan, and it doesn't expect to make money until next year.

Sales of Ford's vehicles continue to decline, although the company points to bright spots like the new Focus small car or Edge crossover vehicle.

But to McDonald, troubles are so apparent that he no longer sees Ford as the place to be for life.

"That's all gone," he said, checking out options at a job fair that the automaker set up. "I don't think that's around anymore."

There's plenty of work and training for electricians at the 2.8-million-square-foot Livonia factory, but McDonald wonders about continued downsizing.

As he went back and forth about taking a package, he seemed to settle on staying, with hopes that Ford will raise the gas mileage of its F-series pickup trucks — the most popular vehicles in the U.S — to jump-start sales.

"If I could stay with Ford, it's in my heart. I've got to stay with Ford," he said before leaving the job fair. "You never know. They could rally and end up becoming huge again."

Buyout breakdown

Details of the buyout and early retirement offers being made to Ford Motor Co.'s 54,000 hourly workers represented by the United Auto Workers union:

• Nonskilled workers with at least 30 years of service, or whose age and years of service equal 85, or who are 65 or older with one year of service, can get a $50,000 payment to retire early. Skilled workers can get $70,000.

• Workers with 28 years but less than 30 years can go on paid leave until they retire.

• Three packages will pay for a four-year education and 50 percent of salary, two-year education and 70 percent of salary, or $100,000 for a family member's college education. Medical benefits would continue while they are in school.

• Workers can get a check for $100,000 or $140,000, depending on their time with the company, to leave Ford and forgo future benefits.

• Two packages allow workers with more than one year but less than 25 years to start businesses. They would get $50,000, plus five years of their existing health benefits or seven years of catastrophic coverage.

• Workers can opt to defer taxes on the $50,000 or $70,000 early retirement payments.

• Deadline to accept is Tuesday. Workers would leave the company beginning April 1.

Source: Ford Motor Co.

Deadline time 03/12/08 [Last modified: Thursday, October 28, 2010 9:37am]
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