Posts Tagged ‘Ford’

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177819_600  April 7, 2016

Workers at a Ford assembly plant gather during an emergency meeting with the plant management in Genk

It just so happens I’m showing Michael Moore’s Roger & Me in class this week.*

Now we have the decision by Stephen Odell, chief executive of Ford of Europe, to close a plant in Genk, Belgium. The New York Times [ht: sm] decides to tell a story of courageous Ford against entrenched politicians and unions.

Ford is one of the few companies to brave the fierce resistance of politicians and Europe’s powerful unions as it tries to emulate the brutal downsizing that carmakers in the United States have done — and that subsequently helped make possible the rebound now under way in the American car market.

And the quote from Odell come have come straight from the mouth of GM’s Roger Smith:

“Ford did not take this decision lightly,” Stephen Odell, chief executive of Ford of Europe, said in a telephone interview Monday. “We understand that it affects people and their families.” But, he said, “we had to do it to positively influence the company going forward.”

But the rest of the story does, in fact, leak through at the end:

Yet for every factory that the industry might consider an albatross, there is a community that faces economic devastation if production shuts down. Nowhere is that more true than in Genk, at the eastern end of Belgium in the province of Limburg, the least prosperous region of the country’s Dutch-speaking north.

In Genk, a city of 65,000 people, many of them descendants of Italians, Turks or Moroccans who came decades ago to dig coal, an estimated 10,000 jobs will be lost at the end of next year when Ford closes the factory. That number includes not only Ford workers but also the businesses that depend on the plant, from big parts suppliers to the mom-and-pop shops.

Marianna Musolino, co-owner of a French fry restaurant in a neighborhood where many Ford workers live, said customers had begun scrimping on orders. “They didn’t take mayonnaise, which is rare, but it saved them 50 cents,” Ms. Musolino said. “Weird things like that.”

Another business already feeling the pain is Bewel, a nonprofit organization in the neighboring town of Diepenbeek that provides paid employment to mentally handicapped people. Until recently, Bewel operated a laundry that cleaned truckloads of protective clothing used by Ford.

But, realizing the work would soon dry up, Patrick Nelissen, managing director of Bewel, gave the Ford concession to a commercial laundry less dependent on Ford. That firm agreed to hire some of the handicapped workers.

Last week, Mr. Nelissen showed a visitor around a deserted building containing rows of idle commercial washers and driers. Stepping around a puddle, he wondered aloud how he was going to recover the 1 million euros, or $1.35 million, he had invested in machines shortly before Ford announced the shutdown. “Nobody needs this kind of machinery,” he said.

Mr. Nelissen said he understood Ford’s predicament. But the prevailing view in Genk is that Ford reneged on promises to build the next generation of Mondeos in the city. Residents knew there would be job cuts, but not a closing of the plant.

“A year ago they gave their word” that Genk would build the next Mondeo, said Wim Dries, the mayor. “Then they said, ‘The economy has changed. We have to close it.’ It was like a bomb going off.”

I wonder if a Belgian Michael Moore will be there to try to chase down Stephen and film the final car going off the line.

 

*If you haven’t seen it (and you should), it’s a documentary (his first and, in my view, still best) of Moore’s pursuit of General Motors CEO Roger Smith, to confront him about the devastating effects on Flint, Michigan caused by the series of decisions by GM to downsize production and close plants in that city. After the credits, the film displays the message, “This film cannot be shown within the city of Flint. All the movie theatres have closed.”