Ford Motor Co., after enjoying the best January for F-150 sales in seven years, is adding 900 employees at its Claycomo plant to keep up with demand for the pickup truck.
The move will add a third shift of workers by the end of the first quarter to build the 2015 F-150, which is all new and clad in an aluminum body. The surge will push the number of hourly employees at Claycomo to 6,450, the highest ever at the plant, which opened in 1951.
In recent years, Claycomo workforce has been growing as F-150 sales rebounded from the recession and the plant last year began assembling the Transit commercial van, a new vehicle.
“It has been great the last couple of years, and here we go again,” said Bruce Hettle, vice president of North America Manufacturing at Ford.
The boost for Claycomo is the biggest chunk of 1,550 new jobs that Ford is announcing Wednesday to help meet demand for the new F-150. The rest are going to a plant in Dearborn, Mich., that also assembles the truck and to other plants in Michigan that supply components,
The 2015 F-150 began filtering into dealer showrooms late last year, and Ford isn’t being shy about tying the additional jobs announced Wednesday to the truck’s success so far. Figures released Tuesday showed an overall 15 percent increase in car and truck sales for the company in January compared with a year ago, with the F-150 racking up a 30 percent jump.
“Thanks to stronger than expected customer demand, we’re adding 1,550 new workers to support additional F-150 production,” said Joe Hinrichs, Ford’s president of the Americas. “We sell every truck we can build, and we plan to build more.”
Ford said it was far enough along in hiring the additional workers that it would not be accepting new applications for the jobs. None are being filled with transferred employees from other Ford plants.
The expanded Claycomo workforce is yet another milestone for the resurrected plant, which saw as few as 3,000 employees during the recession.
“It’s another great day at the Ford plant,” said Jeff Wright, president of United Auto Workers UAW Local 249, which represents Ford’s hourly employees there. “I tell people that my only problems are good problems.”
The UAW helped the turnaround by granting concessions to automakers, one of which created a two-tier wage system that gave lower wages to new employees. The Claycomo plant also benefited from a Missouri law that offered incentives for creating jobs.
The fruits of those moves emerged in 2011 when Ford said it would invest $1.1 billion for upgrades at the Claycomo plant, including a new 437,000-square-foot stamping plant that would make metal body parts for the Transit.
Ford said the 1,550 new jobs announced Wednesday will breach a cap that limited the number of employees that get the lower wage to roughly 20 percent of the workforce. As a result, about 300 to 500 workers, with the majority coming from its Claycomo, Chicago and Louisville plants, will move from $19.28 to $28.50 an hour.
The two-tier wage system, now that the automakers have rebounded financially, is expected to be the biggest issue when the automakers and the UAW negotiate new labor agreements contracts later this year.
The Kansas City area is thought to have the second-largest concentration of auto manufacturing in the nation. Its history dates back to 1909 when Henry Ford picked the area for the company’s first plant outside Detroit. The building in the old northeast industrial district still exists.
Besides Ford’s Claycomo plant, General Motors has its Fairfax plant in Kansas City, Kan., which makes the Chevrolet Malibu and Buick LaCrosse. The plant has 3,900 hourly and salaried employees. It recently completed $600 million in improvements including a new paint shop.
Both companies have boosted the local economy, and Bob Marcusse, president and CEO of the Kansas City Area Development Council, said Ford’s creating an additional 900 jobs was the kind of help the local economy needed to thrive.
“It’s what needs to happen in the Kansas City area,” he said.
But with the F-150 essentially going to 24-hour production, is that the end of Claycomo’s run as a job creator? Not necessarily.
Transit sales just had their second best month since going on sale last year, and Claycomo has another shift it could add for the van. Nothing is in the works, Ford executives say, but they also don’t rule out that a third shift could happen someday.
“That’s something to keep our eyes on,” said Hettle.
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