Video: Town losing jobs, identity with plant closing

updated 1/23/2006 8:31:56 PM ET 2006-01-24T01:31:56

Mark Gilmore moved with his teenage son from Ohio 18 months ago in a quest for more stable work at the Ford Motor Co. assembly plant outside Atlanta.

Now, he's regretting the decision after the automaker announced Monday it is shuttering the plant along with 13 others in a major cost-cutting move.

"It's a shame when you can give your whole life to something and then it crumbles right in front of you," said the 34-year-old Gilmore.

In all, some 25,000 to 30,000 Ford employees in North America will lose their jobs, representing about 20 percent of the company's hourly work force.

And while many were angry and disappointed, the announcement hardly came as a surprise to those who had followed the slumping fortunes of the nation's automakers. Just two months earlier, General Motors Corp. announced it would cut 30,000 manufacturing jobs and close nine North American assembly plants.

"Their hopes and dreams and aspirations and secure future are gone for now," said Ken Dearing, president of the local union that represents Ford workers at the Hazlewood, Mo., plant outside St. Louis, which also will be idled.

In addition to the Georgia and Missouri plants, Ford also said it will idle Michigan's Wixom assembly plant and Ohio's Batavia transmission plant. Windsor Casting in Ontario also will be idled. Another two assembly plants to be idled will be determined later this year.

While some officials in the affected communities held out hope the plants could reopen one day because Ford said it was "idling" them over the next two years, the company gave no indication the plants would be used for any other purpose. It also said all the facilities it is shuttering will cease production by 2012.

In southwest Ohio, the loss of the Batavia plant will cost 1,745 jobs and the county's largest employer. The plant, which has been open since 1980, makes transaxles for several Ford models, including the Escape and Freestyle.

"While it will have significant fiscal impact on the county, it will hit Batavia township and the school districts even harder," said David Spinney, a Clermont County, Ohio, administrator.

In Michigan, 18-year worker James Crawford said he is too young to retire and might not have enough seniority to get hired at another plant.

"This really hits me hard," said the 48-year-old car painter, who listened to the announcement on the radio in a white Ford Probe parked across the street from the Wixom plant. "It looks like I'm starting over."

The news is especially tough in Georgia, which already was reeling from GM's decision to close its plant in the Atlanta suburb of Doraville, which could cut more than 3,000 jobs.

Ford's Hapeville plant, which opened in 1947 and made its mark churning out such models as the Fairlane and the Mercury Cougar, most recently had 2,000 workers making the Sable and Taurus sedans, which are being phased out this year. It is Ford's only assembly plant in the South identified by the company for changes.

"We're devastated," said Danny Sparks, chairman of the local union representing Ford workers at the Hapeville plant. "This work force deserves some attention to this. They have done everything Ford has asked of them."

Shipping clerk Wilburn Kelly, a 38-year veteran employee, said he expects to retire. But for his co-workers who haven't reached retirement age, he said, "It will be rough."

Police cruisers were posted at the plant gate and across the road at the union office in case of problems, but the scene was quiet at both places.

Hapeville Mayor Alan Hallman called the news a setback for the state and the community of 6,200 just south of Atlanta. Tax revenue from the plant accounts for 9 percent of the small city's budget.

"We've got hundreds of man-hours and thousands of dollars invested in various plans to keep them here. The fact that they've elected to idle the plant is very disappointing," Hallman said.

Georgia officials had worked with Ford for four years to study ways to keep the historic Hapeville plant in production, but "market forces beyond the control of government have caused it to succumb," Gov. Sonny Perdue said Monday.

Perdue said Ford had considered retooling the plant for assembly of a new model of vehicles. "Unfortunately, global market conditions have forced Ford not to pursue that option," he said.

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