The Association of U S West Retirees



Ford cutting back health benefits for white-collar workers
Many retirees' benefits will be eliminated; those for active employees will be reduced. About 135 workers in St. Paul are affected.
By Dee DePass
Minneapolis Star Tribune
Friday, November 3, 2006

White-collar workers at Ford Motor Co. got an unwelcome surprise this week when management announced that health care benefits for many white-collar retirees will be eliminated, while those for active salaried employees will be reduced. The cutback is expected to save hundreds of millions of dollars for the beleaguered automaker, which posted a $5.8 billion third-quarter loss.

The Detroit News reported the move Thursday.  Ford plans to terminate company health insurance for salaried retirees over age 65 and eligible for Medicare.  Instead, it will offer about $1,800 a year to help defray the cost of supplemental Medicare coverage or out-of-pocket medical expenses.  Ford also plans to end merit pay raises for salaried workers next year and to raise most health care premiums for those workers by about 30 percent beginning June 1.

Ford last month began issuing buyout offers to all union and some salaried workers.  More salaried buyout offers will roll out this week and in the middle of December, spokeswoman Marcey Evans said.

Salaried workers will have 21 days to decide;  union workers are getting six weeks.  The buyout offers are part of Ford's plan to shed 14,000 salaried and 30,000 union workers across North America by 2012.

At Ford's Ranger truck plant in St. Paul, which will close in 2008, there are 135 white-collar salaried employees, down from about 155 earlier this year.  The plant also has about 1,725 union workers.

Roger Terveen, president of UAW Local 879, said the number of salaried employees at the plant has dropped, largely through attrition.

"The numbers have dropped for the simple reason that a lot are bailing out and finding other job opportunities," Terveen said.  "There is not a lot of future opportunity for white-collar workers to stay with Ford, so they are looking at outside work."

Mike Goldman, a team leader for Minnesota's Dislocated Workers Program, said Ford's health care premium increases and merit pay changes could be "a disincentive for sticking around."

In a meeting Thursday with managers and union workers, Goldman suggested that all Ford workers who are concerned about the changes should enroll in Minnesota's Dislocated Workers Program, which provides counseling, skills assessment and job hunting assistance.

"There has been a misconception that the dislocated workers program was just for union workers.  It's not.  It's for salaried workers too," Goldman said.  "We want to make it clear that any Ford employee is eligible for the program right now."

Workers should call 651-696-7963 or 651-297-7293 for more information.

Of the 1,800 workers at the St. Paul plant, 300 (mostly union employees) have signed up to date, a number that should be considerably higher, state officials said.

Dee DePass 612-673-7725