By M.R. KROPKO, AP Business Writer
AVON LAKE, Ohio (AP) - Ford Motor Co. plans to close a Cleveland-area casting plant with 100 workers and lay off 980 workers in Avon Lake as part of its restructuring plan announced Friday.
In all, Ford Motor Co. is closing five plants and eliminating four vehicles in the restructuring.
Workers at the Aluminum Casting Plant, which opened in the Cleveland suburb of Brook Park last year, were told Friday of plans to close the plant. It produces engine blocks for the Ford Ranger.
"We just want to get out of the business of melting and pouring our own aluminum," said Ford spokesman Ed Miller in Avon Lake. "What we'll do is try to find another source for the product."
Avon Lake workers already knew the company would discontinue the Mercury Villager, also produced as the Nissan Quest, sometime this year.
Todd Maynard, a worker on the Villager/Quest line, said after his shift Friday morning that workers did not have the chance to ask questions when the announcement was made.
"There is nothing to tell us," Maynard said. "Basically, we were just told to continue to make good quality products and be good, faithful Ford employees, but there will be no Villager-Quest as of June 10, and they've already cut out the night shift."
The layoffs are to be phased in, Miller said. About 1,600 workers who make bodies for Econoline vans in Avon Lake will not be affected.
"At least they didn't tell us they would shut the plant down, and that makes me feel good," said Charity Pelly-Berry, who works the van line.
Other plants to be closed are the Edison, N.J., assembly plant, the Ontario truck plant, the St. Louis assembly plant and Vulcan Forge in Dearborn, Mich.
William Clay Ford Jr. in Dearborn said the cuts were a "painful, but necessary" effort to return the world's No. 2 automaker to profitability.
Brook Park Mayor Mark Elliott said production at the aluminum plant will be phased out in 2003, but about 100 people working there will be rolled over into other operations.
"The impact it will have here in the city isn't that bad I guess. Did we dodge a bullet? I guess we did," he said. "We're disappointed in one sense that the aluminum plant is being phased out. But we also feel fortunate that those individuals will not lose their jobs."
Mark Payne, a United Auto Workers Local 1250 official, denied that the announcement was cause for relief.
"What could be worse than the closing of a plant?" he said.
The Avon Lake plant employs about 2,500 workers on two assembly lines. Ford has yet to find a replacement product for the Villager and Quest, Miller said.
"We told the workers we'd make every effort to find a new product for it," he said, adding the plant would have to be retooled.
Miller said it also was possible workers could be absorbed elsewhere.
The job cuts include 22,000 in North America. Vehicles to be dropped are the Escort, Cougar, Villager/Quest and Lincoln Continental.
(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)