Innovative Approach to Plant Closings: The UAW-Ford Experience at San Jose
Hansen, Gary B., Monthly Labor Review
Innovative approach to plant closings: the UAW-Ford experience at San Jose
A systematic approach to plant closings and worker retraining was developed by the Ford Motor Co. and the United Auto Workers union (UAW) in the fall of 1982, when Ford announced the impending shutdown of its San Jose assembly plant. This joint labor-management initiative provided assistance to dislocated workers in the form of orientation sessions, assessment and testing, basic education, vocational exploration courses, in-plant seminars, targeted vocational retraining, prepaid tuition assistance, on-the-job training, job search training and placement, and preferential placement.
The decision to close the San Jose assembly plant was announced on November 18, 1982. Company officials believed it would be unfair to employees to hold out hope for jobs in the future. They promised San Jose workers substantial termination benefits and help with finding new jobs. When possible, Ford would relocate workers to other company plants. The date of the official closing of the plant was set for 6 months later, May 20, 1983.
When the plant closing was announced, the eight-member local Employee Development and Training Program Committee, recently created under the provisions of the UAW-Ford 1982 national agreement, moved into action. Jointly chaired by the plant's industrial relations manager and the UAW local 560 bargaining chairman, the committee worked closely with a representative of the California Economic Adjustment Team, a statewide "rapid response' unit created by the governor in March 1981 to coordinate the responses of State agencies to plant closings. Together, the State's Economic Adjustment Team and the plant's Employee Development and Training Committee conveyed a community task force. Within a week, plans were under way to mobilize the necessary resources to provide services to San Jose workers.
The local Employee Development and Training Program Committee and Ford management established an Employment and Retraining Center in the plant 4 days after the announcement of the plant closing. Two supervisors and two hourly paid union members were assigned to serve as training coordinators and respond to the needs of the workers. Ford paid the salaries and wages of the Employee Development Training Program Committee members and the Employment and Retraining Center employees. The company also agreed to provide space at the plant to house other public agencies, such as the California Employment Development Department (which provided job service counseling) and Milpitas Adult Education. The delivery of services to the workers began immediately, and some services continued for more than a year after the plant was shut down.
In the 4 weeks following the November 1982 plant shutdown announcement, procedures were established and services organized under the direction of the local Employee Development Training Program Committee with the assistance of the California Employment Development Department and other agencies. In addition to providing four full-time training coordinators, the Committee organized and coordinated a variety of programmatic responses. Most of the services were delivered onsite during and after work hours.
Orientation and benefits. Systematic orientation meetings were held to inform workers what was happening, what services were available, what benefits they could expect to receive, and what procedures were necessary to participate in various programs. In addition, Ford prepared and distributed "personalized' information for each worker about what his or her benefit situation would be at the time of shutdown.
Most of the workers were eligible for 52 to 104 weeks of supplemental unemployment benefits. They also received continuation of company-paid health insurance for up to 25 months, and nearly all were eligible for either immediate retirement or subsequent vested pension benefits upon reaching age 55 or 62. …