updated 1/20/2006 12:52:37 PM ET 2006-01-20T17:52:37

Ford Motor Co. is offering to pay for college for some of its laid-off auto workers.

Ford spokeswoman Marcey Evans said Wednesday that the company began offering the tuition program for the first time last week to idled workers at its plant in Edison, N.J., which closed in 2004. Ford also plans to offer the program to laid-off workers at a plant in Lorain, Ohio, which closed in December.

Under the deal, laid-off workers can get up to $15,000 a year for tuition costs that will be paid directly to their college. They also will be eligible for annual living expenses equal to half their hourly pay, or around $25,000 a year, and they can keep their health care coverage.

Evans said the company doesn’t yet know whether any workers will accept the offer. It’s unclear how many workers would be eligible at both plants. Approximately 400 laid-off workers went into Ford’s jobs bank when the Edison plant closed. The number of workers eligible at the Lorain plant won’t be released until the tuition offer is official, Evans said.

Evans said the tuition reimbursement plan was negotiated with the United Auto Workers as part of the agreement to close the plants. Ford’s salaried employees already were eligible for tuition reimbursement.

Evans said the reimbursement deal is the newest of five programs that are being offered to UAW members to encourage early retirement or severance from the company.

Until this program, workers in the jobs bank weren’t allowed to go to school full-time because they needed to be available for work, Evans said. The new program allows them to earn their degrees faster and also allows them to go to any school, not just one close to the plant.

Ford had 1,100 workers in its jobs bank as of Jan. 1, Evans said. The program, which also is in place at General Motors Corp., DaimlerChrysler AG’s Chrysler Group and some auto suppliers, pays workers their full wages and benefits even though they’re not working. Auto supplier Delphi Corp., which filed for bankruptcy last year, has called for an end to the costly program, but it’s expected to remain in place at least until 2007, when the UAW and automakers negotiate new contracts.

UAW President Ron Gettelfinger said Tuesday that jobs banks should remain and the companies should simply find work for the employees that are in them.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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