Ford Motor Co. said Wednesday it will move 500 full-time hourly jobs at its Louisville Assembly Plant and shift all workers to similar assembly jobs at the automaker’s truck plant in eastern Jefferson County.
The news comes after months of speculation about Ford’s plans to restructure, and after the automaker’s chief competitor, General Motors, announced this week it would close five factories in North America and trim 14,000 jobs, including management and professional staff.
Workers were notified during a midday town hall meeting in Louisville, and the automaker alerted United Auto Worker leaders before the announcement.
“Ford is adding more than 500 jobs at Kentucky Truck Plant and moving approximately that same number of jobs from Louisville Assembly Plant to nearby KTP to increase Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator production by 20 percent,” Ford said in a statement.
“(The Louisville Assembly Plant) will move to a two-shift operating pattern next spring,” Ford said.
Louisville Assembly has 4,530 hourly workers, which means slightly more than 12 percent of the unionized workforce will shift to KTP. The truck plant has about 8,200, and those relocated to the truck plant are considered new positions.
UAW Vice President Rory Gamble said in a statement Wednesday that the labor union is working with members on the shift reduction and placement of members, who are protected by a collectively bargained contract.
“The UAW will be working with our members to ensure they have a continuous work and help minimize, as much as possible, any hardship on members and their families,” he said.
The UAW will begin negotiations with car companies in 2019 to craft a new contract.
Ford previously announced it intends to exit the passenger car market, except for its popular Mustang, to concentrate on SUVs and trucks. Analysts offered a fairly upbeat view of Ford’s moves after GM’s announcement earlier this week shocked the industry.
Ivan Drury, senior analyst for Edmunds, said in response to the news: “Ford’s gamble on trucks is paying off, which should put both investors and employees at ease.”
Marick Masters, a business professor at Wayne State University, said President Donald Trump, who is angry at GM, is sure to praise Ford for its “no layoffs” announcement.
“When people see GM make an announcement about cutting jobs, they think, ‘When is the shoe going to drop?’ If you’re going to make an announcement about moving product, you should make certain it’s coupled with an announcement that no layoffs will take place,” Masters said.
“What Ford is trying to convey to the employees, and to the market, is that they are shifting their focus to the more profitable end of the market. And fortunately, especially at this time of the year, this announcement comes with no layoffs. It gives employees an opportunity to adjust to the transition that the company plans to make.”
Ford said to meet demand for full-size SUVs and trucks, it’s rebalancing production at some U.S. plants, “further increasing our efficiency while retaining jobs for all full-time hourly employees.”
It noted that Expedition retail sales are up 36 percent from a year ago, while Lincoln Navigator sales are up more than 80 percent from this time last year.
Ford built 8,872 fewer Escape compact SUVs at Louisville Assembly in September compared with the same month a year ago, a 28 percent cut in response to slowing consumer demand for its once hot-selling models.
The company also dialed back production of its higher-priced Lincoln MKC at the assembly plant, which is on Fern Valley Road near Interstate 65. It trimmed MKC production by nearly 18 percent year over year in September and by more than 34 percent through the first nine months of the year. In October, Ford actually increased production over the prior October by nearly 500 Escapes and MKCs.
Ford spokeswoman Kelli Felker said in early October that there were no job cuts planned at Louisville Assembly. The company is getting ready to post openings for the jobs at the truck plant in Louisville and in Livonia, Michigan, where workers are also expected to move from another assembly plant in nearby Flat Rock. Ford wants to give workers an opportunity to get the paperwork completed, Felker said.
The Expedition model has seen a 36 percent jump in sales, or 44,144 more vehicles from a year ago, while the Lincoln Navigator has seen an 80 percent increase in sales or 14,200 vehicles from a year ago.
The F-Series trucks are up 2 percent, or 749,456 pickups — outselling the nearest competitor, the Chevy Silverado, by 280,000 vehicles through October 2018. The shift changes and reallocation of workers will allow Ford to increase production of the Expedition and Navigator when demand is still increasing for both models, Felker said.