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Saturday, 12 January, 2002, 22:23 GMT
Ford workers brace for closure
Ford plant in Edison New Jersey
The plant is slated to shut in 2004
Kevin Anderson

Bob LaPoint started working at the Ford plant in Edison New Jersey in 1978, and now his grandson works there.

It's like that for many families in Edison, where husbands and wives, fathers and sons, uncles and cousins have worked for more than a half-century at the plant.

And Mr LaPoint, president of United Auto Workers Local 980, said the entire workforce became a close-knit family as they worked side-by-side for 10 hours a day on the assembly line or the "Iron Horse" as workers call it.

"You spend more time at work than you do with your families," he said, adding that when workers retire, they tell their wives, "Now he's yours, but thanks for the time he spent with us."

Rumours of the plant closing are nothing new. Pepe Perez has worked at the plant for 31 years, and he jokes that there have been rumours that the plant would close since in opened in 1948.

But on Friday, Ford made it official. The plant would close by 2004.

The next step

The day after the announcement, Chris Trzeciak came to the union hall to have a smoke and consider his next step.
United Auto Workers union hall
Workers came to the union hall to weigh their options

He started out as a security guard at the plant after four years in the Navy. Then he went "downstairs".

For much of the last two and a half years, he has spent 10-hour and then 8-hour shifts putting the right side tires on Ford Ranger trucks. "I can do it in my sleep," he said.

Now, he is considering his options. The buyout package of $21,000 doesn't seem much to him, and after taxes, he'll be left with even less.

He will probably return to upstate New York where his family and friends are.

But, he says the plant closing will greatly impact the local businesses, the small shops, restaurants and fast food shops, and "especially Dunkin Donuts," he said.

Vineyard Pizza is next to the union hall. "Workers would come in here for a slice and then go next door and cash their checks," said Sal Cirneco. He and his brother have run the pizzeria for 13 years.
local pizzaria
Vineyard Pizza expects a 30% drop in business

They estimate that they will lose 30% to 35% of their business when the plant closes.

The plant is ringed by strip malls, and workers expect that they will be hard hit. Workers frequent the shops and restaurants where they often get discounts, said Pepe Perez.

The plant's closure will mean the loss of $100m in payroll to the community and some $1.8m in taxes.

Beyond business

But local leaders say that the plant's place in the community goes beyond simple economics.

It transcends a normal business relationship. It's more like a wedding between the citizens of Edison and the Ford family

George Spadoro
Mayor of Edison

Ford has been a part of the community since 1948, but ties to the community go back even further.

Residents attribute the presence of a Ford plant to the close relationship between Henry Ford and Thomas Edison, the famous inventor and the town's namesake, according to the David Georges, a member of the mayor's staff.

Mayor George Spadoro said: "It transcends a normal business relationship. It's more like a wedding between the citizens of Edison and the Ford family."

He can recite from memory many of the models of Ford cars and trucks that were built at the plant: the Falcon, the Pinto, the Escort, the Ranger pickup, and the famous Mustang.

Fighting for the future

But the half-century old plant is the victim of the dropping sales of Ranger pickups, which saw its sales figures slump by 17% last year, and the economic fallout of the 11 September attacks.
Ford Ranger trucks at the Edison plant
Sales of the truck made in Edison dropped 17% last year

Up until December of last year, the Ford plant employed some 1,800 workers. But a month ago, Ford eliminated one of the two shifts at the plant, cutting some 600 jobs.

"That's usually a bad sign, and take into account the September 11 attacks, and we saw warning lights," he said.

Mayor Spadoro flew to Michigan to meet with Ford executives this week and offered them a package of financial incentives, including tax relief, loans for retooling the plant and plans to save on utility costs.

He plans to return to the Michigan with New Jersey Governor-elect James E McGreevey for more talks with Ford.

City leaders are optimistic that the plant still may be saved. It is not slated to close until 2004.

But, to save the plant, sales of the truck the plant makes will have to improve and the economy will have to rebound, he said.

But if the plant does close, Mr Spadoro said, "it will be a major loss for our community and for our history."

See also:

11 Jan 02 | Business
Ford hit by 'perfect storm' of woes
11 Jan 02 | Business
Ford takes job cuts to 35,000
05 Dec 01 | Business
Ford warns of steep losses
03 Dec 01 | Business
Ford cuts more jobs as sales flag
17 Oct 01 | Business
Ford reports huge loss
11 Jan 02 | Business
Automotive Empires
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