Ford adds to auto layoffs, manufacturing turmoil
Thursday, May 23, 2019
Auto manufacturing layoffs are not a new development. The last round of General Motors layoffs, announced in November, triggered a domino effect of panic and speculation that continues amidst Brexit negotiations, Green New Deal debates, and ongoing presidential campaigning.
As American as apple pie, the auto manufacturing sector is a good litmus test for what ails the U.S. economy. By this logic, as goes Detroit, so goes the nation.
No wonder heads turned at news that, amidst restructuring, General Motors considered selling its Detroit-based Renaissance Center headquarters. That would be proof-positive for those seeking to bury any fantasy of a U.S. led manufacturing revival.
Auto jobs present a bipartisan story about the U.S. economy’s future. Globalization’s impact on jobs was first felt when the word "outsourcing" began to circulate.
This was a particularly sore spot, since a globalizing economy — buttressed by Clinton-era trade deals like NAFTA — put American workers at odds with the political establishment, again. Now, decades later, Congress must reconsider NAFTA’s shortcomings, the green economy mandate, and the centrality of labor. This means cars.
One problem is that no one can decide if we must throw the baby of cleaner energy out with the bathwater of old manufacturing chains. President Trump wants to undermine steps previously taken to a clean energy transition, by any executive means necessary, while also supposedly championing smart job growth for a new downsized manufacturing sector.
The problem is that those downsizing companies, like General Motors and Ford, are citing commitments to green technologies, such as electric and hybrid vehicle manufacturing, to justify controversial job cuts.
Ford joined General Motors this week by announcing 7,000 white-collar job layoffs — nothing short of 10% of its salaried global staff — stating the company will save $600 million annually. Beyond cost-saving measures, this streamlining opportunity has Ford also claiming cleaner, greener manufacturing plans.
Clearly, the company struggles to stay afloat in the new flex economy’s triumphs for the Ubers and Teslas of the world that are valued at or more than the original mainstay of U.S. industrial manufacturing: Ford.
In an era of American dollar overvaluation and the trade war byproduct of rising aluminum and steel prices, news of any job losses, especially those keeping the dwindling U.S. middle class afloat, is unwelcomed.
The unintentional satire found in this week’s auto sector headline by The Associated Press says it all: "Ford heralds future with job cuts." Come again? What kind of future is heralded by job loss?
Amidst international anxieties spurred on by Brexit chaos, these cuts are received in Europe, the U.K., and stateside as bad news for workers. Workers at a Ford plant in Bridgend, Wales, are threatening a strike over layoff news impacting two-thirds of the plant’s workforce and ongoing manufacturing controversies over the new Dragon engine.
Back in North America, the United Auto Workers are currently in contract negotiations. The fact that strike pay has been increased by 25% to $250 per week should signal what we already know lies ahead for impacted workers this summer. Hard, precarious labor forms the backdrop for talks that have been called "the most important in a generation," per labor expert Harley Shaiken.
What are the contract’s sticking points? A two-tiered system underpaying new employees, reliance on temp workers, technology changes impacting production conditions, and quality control accompany the usual talk of pensions and healthcare. Of course, those issues are still pivotal.
Layoffs loom large, despite GM and Ford’s supposed green outlook in electric vehicle production that do not mandate nearly the assembly requirements as internal combustion engines. In order for a transition to occur toward a green economy, you need workers to transition with, right?
No one clings to the past here. But workers preparing to negotiate with auto’s Big Three — Ford, GM, and Fiat Chrysler — know what they are up against.
Of course, auto manufacturing extends beyond the Big Three to include thousands of parts, materials, and component suppliers. In 2017, we began to see auto manufacturing job numbers drop, with no recovery in sight for now, as the industry pushes through a restructuring that promises to be an employment game changer.
As of March 2019, the number of auto manufacturing employees reached 1,004,000.
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