April 13, 2006

Ford to close Virginia, Minnesota plants: union

By Poornima Gupta

DETROIT -- Ford Motor Co. plans to close its St. Paul, Minnesota, and Norfolk, Virginia, assembly plants as part of the automaker's broader restructuring plan, local United Auto Workers union officials said on Thursday.

"Ford will make an announcement at one o'clock informing the employees that it will close the plant in 2008," Chris Kimmons, president of UAW Local 919, representing 2,400 workers at the Virginia plant, told Reuters.

The Minnesota assembly plant is marked for closure in 2009, Bob Killeen, treasurer for UAW Local 879, which represents the workers at the plant, told Reuters.

The plant, which employs about 1,750 hourly workers, builds Ranger pickup trucks, which has seen demand decline sharply in recent years.

The Norfolk assembly plant builds Ford's best-selling F-150 pickup truck, which is also assembled in Ford's Dearborn, Michigan and Kansas City, Missouri facilities.

Ford spokeswoman Anne Marie Gattari said the company has nothing to announce at this time. She declined to comment further.

Ford's restructuring plan, dubbed "Way Forward," calls for the closing of 14 plants, including seven assembly plants, and slashing up to 30,000 blue-collar jobs. It is designed to reverse a $1.6 billion loss last year in the company's North American operations.

Ford -- which has already announced the closure of plants in Wixom, Michigan, St Louis, Missouri, and Atlanta, Georgia -- has said it will identify two other assembly plants for closure later this year.

Strong competition, soaring health-care and raw material costs, and a slide in U.S. market share forced the automaker to announce a second restructuring for its North American operations in four years.

Kimmons said he did not know what plans the automaker had for the workers at the Norfolk plant.

"I have never seen the auto industry this bad," said Kimmons, who has spent 42 years in the industry.