It is fitting that we begin with Ford Motor Company, as no employer is more synonymous with Detroit, Michigan, where this year's Super Bowl will be played at Ford Field. Rarely will a better opportunity exist for Ford to project a positive corporate image to the world, in the first Super Bowl played in Detroit since 1982. Ford paid $40 million in 2002 to place its name on the stadium for 20 years, and has an exclusive contract for auto advertising within the stadium. Ford will also have one 30-second commercial.
Ford's workers, however, are hardly so thrilled with the national exposure their company received last week. On Monday, January 23, Ford announced a major corporate restructuring, in which the company will shed up to one-quarter of its North American workforce (30,000 jobs) and close 14 plants by 2012. Although Ford Americas President Mark Fields announced half of the job losses will occur through attrition, the rest will occur via layoffs. This restructuring is the second in four years, after the first plan, in which Ford closed five plants and cut 35,000 jobs, failed to turn the company around.
According to a previous class-action lawsuit that was ultimately settled by Ford for $10.3 million in 2001, the company used a forced ranking system targeting older workers for termination. Although refusing to admit liability in the settlement, Ford ultimately abandoned the practice. How will the company go about selecting approximately 15,000 workers for this round of job cuts? Workers will be watching carefully to ensure that discriminatory practices are not a shortcut for difficult decisions.
Mark Gilmore, one of the employees who will be affected by the plant closures, speaks for many Ford employees when he says, "It's a shame when you can give your whole life to something and then it crumbles right in front of you." Danny Sparks, who is chairman of the local union representing Ford workers at the Hapeville, Georgia plant that will close under the restructuring, pleads, "This work force deserves some attention to this. They have done everything Ford has asked of them." During Ford's 30-second commercial, and each time the Goodyear blimp's cameras train on Ford Field, some of the attention directed at Ford Motor Company should also be focused on Ford's workers. Ford's workers will ultimately take the hit for Ford's moment of glory.