It’s been four years since plummeting sales and mounting losses put the future of the U.S. auto industry in question. Any lingering doubts about the industry were extinguished Thursday at Ford Motor Co.’s plant in Claycomo.
By STEVE EVERLY
The Kansas City Star
“Look at us now, baby,” said Jimmy Settles, a UAW vice president and director of the union’s National Ford Department.
That exuberance was shared Thursday with a gathering of Ford executives and employees as well as government officials who were present for the automaker’s announcement that it was adding 900 jobs at the Claycomo plant. The third shift will build more F-150 pickup trucks to meet surging demand.
Those jobs are on top of the previously announced 1,100 additional jobs to build the new Transit van. That will bring the plant’s total hourly and salaried employment to about 5,000, including management and union workers.
“Together we are working to grow the Kansas City economy,” said Joe Hinrichs, Ford’s president of the Americas.
He noted that the event was especially fitting since Henry Ford about 100 years ago picked Kansas City as the location of the company’s first plant outside of Detroit.
In an interview, Hinrichs said the company began seriously considering a third shift for the F-150 late in 2012 amid signs of an improving economy, which would boost truck sales. F-series sales so far this year are up 19 percent compared with the same period last year.
Gov. Jay Nixon, who has made a vibrant auto industry in the state a top priority, said the extra jobs were a powerful symbol of the resurgence of manufacturing in the U.S.
Speaking just a few feet from a rolling line of F-150s being built, he added: “Listen to it work!”
Jerry Nolte, a former Missouri state representative who was a leader in the passage of legislation to encourage manufacturing, said he was pleasantly surprised by the F-150 third shift.
“This was more meat and potatoes than I anticipated,” he said.
The third shift will start in the third quarter this year, and production of the Transit van will ramp up next year. Ford is spending $1.1 billion on the plant expansion, which includes a new stamping plant and paint shop.
About half of the 2,000 new jobs will be filled by Claycomo workers who were put on temporary furlough after production of the Ford Escape was moved to another plant. The rest will be new hires who will be paid a wage of $15 to $16 per hour compared with $28 for current employees who do similar jobs at the plant.
The new employees would see their wages increase to $20 per hour within four years. The new jobs come with benefits.
The union and Ford agreed to the lower tier of wages in the latest contract. It was not without controversy within the union, but the company said it would add jobs in the U.S. if the lower wages were adopted for new workers.
Todd Hillyard, bargaining chairman for UAW Local 249, which represents the plant’s workers, said an opportunity to add the number of jobs that was announced Thursday was something the union supported.
“The shift being added is going to be the next generation of Ford workers,” he said.
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