ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — When the last Ranger pickup truck rolled off the assembly line at the Ford Motor Co. plant here in December, it came five years after Ford announced plans to close the plant. And yet it managed to catch many employees unprepared for life’s next step.

It’s a theme that’s become all too familiar for union leaders at shuttered plants around the country who have watched workers cling too long to high-paying jobs.

For Travis Johnston, 36, of River Falls, Wis., it made sense to ride with Ford as long as he could. He often worked more than 50 hours a week for $28 an hour plus overtime, leaving him exhausted and with little incentive to find a job that would almost certainly pay less. After 11 years with Ford, he only recently updated his resume and began looking for another job.

“Honestly, the biggest part of it is the pay,” he said.

In 2006, Ford announced it would shut down the plant and offered its employees buyouts. Then the company brought back hundreds of workers under special terms and kept the plant running.

“We kept getting these extensions,” Johnston said. “When we didn’t get it (this summer), it really started to sink in.”

The plant had about 1,800 hourly workers in 2006. In 2007, the state’s dislocated worker program started signing up employees, helping them write resumes, network and sharpen their interviewing skills, while acting as a gateway to subsidized job training.

State figures show 1,050 employees enrolled and more than 300 finished. Of those who finished, 90 percent got jobs and 96 percent of them were still employed six months later. Forty-six percent of those who finished earned a diploma or professional certificate through the program’s training benefits.

Anthony Alongi, director of Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development’s dislocated worker program, said such programs never get all employees in a mass layoff. Many transfer to other plants, he said, some retire, others get jobs on their own, and some simply refuse to seek help.

He said more workers might have completed the program if Ford hadn’t granted so many extensions keeping the plant open.

“If you were a Ford worker, you could be forgiven for thinking that maybe it would stay open a little bit longer,” he said.

Wayne Young, supervisor of the dislocated worker program for Ramsey County, which contracts with the state to provide services to the workers, said the number of Ford workers who showed up for registration events spiked as the final closing date neared.

“It’s not unusual for people in large-scale layoff situations to be a bit in denial that it’s ending,” he said. “I kind of got that feeling from the folks we have been seeing on the past couple of registrations.”

Ford spokeswoman Marcey Evans said about two-thirds of the 800 employees can transfer to other Ford locations, including assembly plants in Chicago and Louisville, Ky. Employees who took a $100,000 lump-sum buyout in 2006 cannot transfer, a restriction that affects Johnston and many other senior workers.

Greg Audette, who worked at the plant for 20 years, said he now regrets taking the money.

“If I had known it would be like this, I never would have taken the buyout,” he said. “I would be transferring now.”

Instead, he said as he walked out of the plant and into the cold as the plant closed, he was going to start looking for work.

“I guess I’ll go look for job, take some time off, figure it out,” Audette said.

It was a similar situation when Chrysler shut down its assembly plant in Newark, Del., in 2008, said Richard McDonaugh Jr., former president of the local autoworker’s union. More than 1,000 workers lost their jobs and only a few of them could transfer to other Chrysler plants. Many who didn’t take advantage of job training programs are still looking for work, he said.

“The economy is going down the toilet and they are going down with it,” said McDonaugh, who now works for the Delaware Department of Labor enforcing labor laws. Several families have broken up because of the stress, he said, and at least two former employees have committed suicide.

At Ford’s St. Paul plant, Sylvia Rutledge was one of the workers who took advantage of everything the state and company offered. A few days before the plant closed, she had plans A, B, C “and C½ and D,” she said. “If one plan falls through, I’ve got another to fall back on.”

Rutledge passed up the $100,000 buyout and picked a Ford severance program that paid for college tuition. She used it to get a medical assistant’s degree, studying on a laptop during breaks when she was called back to work. She figures she’s only a year of study away from earning a nursing degree.

Once her daughter graduates from high school in the spring, she might try for a transfer to the medical department at Ford’s Louisville plant, work as a medical assistant or go back to school to finish her nursing degree.

“I got a few options,” she said. “That’s what everybody should have done because we’ve been knowing about this for five years. I don’t plan on being caught unaware.”

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Comments (22)
  1. Nolen says:

    Who is going to pay someone 28 bucks an hour for assembly work. They will never find that kind of work again unless GM opens a plant in MN. Another example of unions corrupting the work force will a false sense of security and then moving on leaving the employees without work, without hope of every receiving that kind of money or benefits again.

    1. pete says:

      The union didn’t pay them 28 dollars an hour Ford motor did.

      1. Getit says:

        Dear simpleton Pete, the union forces Ford to pay them $28 thats the point of a union.

        1. Get ALL the facts says:

          Dear simpleton getit…Ford agreed to pay them $28 per hour as well as many other agreed upon things. Unions do not exist in a vacuum as all of these union hackers try to make people believe.

  2. Jim Bob says:

    These are the same people that TV showed doing drugs and getting drunk in the parking lot during their breaks a couple years back. Slow to prepare? Well, Kevin is faster.

  3. MAR k says:

    too bad too sad. The UNIONS were and continue to bring demise to industries and companies that employ our family and neighbors. We would be so far ahead without the corrupt wasteful unions and the worthless labor leaders.

  4. newcraft says:

    So it’s the union’s fault that these people had years to prepare and didn’t?

    The union blame card is getting old and tired. There are comparable jobs still out there – yes, they do exist. The thing is, you actually have to apply for them. And yes, when you work 50 hrs a week, time is a factor – but not over YEARS. Not really finding empathy here. There are Ford workers who’ve been looking and have jobs lined up – but that apparently isn’t enough of a story.

    1. MAR k says:

      You are correct. It’s not the unions fault that these people did not prepare for the future.

      It is however the UNIONS FAULT for instilling and promoting the ENTITLEMENT mentality in members who foolishly act like sheep following the misdirection of the union.

      1. @MAR k says:

        Well said, what the Unions did in Detroit they did in St. Paul

  5. Jason says:

    Now this is just lazy. So much for independant media reporting. From another local outlet. ST. PAUL, Minn. – Ford announced it would close its St.
    Paul assembly plant in 2006, but when the fateful day arrived last month, many of the 800 workers there still didn’t have a plan for their next job.

    The state has offered help for workers to write resumes and
    sharpen their interviewing skills. Subsidized job training programs have been available for years. WOW

    But workers at the plant say working 50 hours a week left them
    with little energy to look for another job, especially one that
    would pay less than the $28 an hour they made at Ford.

    The plant had 1,800 employees in 2006, but state figures show
    only about 300 have finished the state’s dislocated worker
    training. The good news: 90 percent of those got jobs

  6. Jason says:

    Must not have liked my last post.

  7. bart says:

    Just move on!!!!!!!
    Its done!!!!

  8. What the ,,, says:

    I see no, make that NO, figures that show how many people of the 1800 are working now? AP, stop your stupid antagonostic attempts at stories, they do not work. You report 300 have finished some program, but that does not mean anything, it relates to nothing.I wonder if this story was written by some anti-union hack. “Many of the 800 workers…” how many was this? 6? 8? This is just nonsense,

    1. Jack Boot says:

      Sometimes when liberal media types spin things they get confused.

  9. Brett says:

    All you have to do is read the first paragraph of this article a few times. *5* YEARS warning, yet, the workers are now ‘unprepared’. How many times does an assembly plant need to be told that they will be SHUT DOWN before the workers actually BELIEVE IT?? Or is that all part of the HOPE and change thing?

    1. Now for more spin... says:

      All you have to do is listen to yourself…who says 1800 are unprepared for 5 years, AP. Spin is what the writer is doing by not presenting the easily available facts.

  10. Leave the unions out of it says:

    Of the 1800 workers 5 years ago…many of these were retirees who took buy outs who had 30 plus years in with the company…this was offered to all auto workers. Yet, AP wants people to think that ALL these people are still there 5 years later. What a pile of nonsense this is. Must have been written by some anti-union repug.

  11. Larry says:

    Wow talk about a load of crap!

    not every body working at that plant made $28/hr some only made $15. A lot of us knew it was coming, we had plans for school, other jobs, heck I know of a couple people that where trying to start there own business. we saw the end, we didn’t want to believe it was true but we saw it anyways. Some of us did make $28/hr, I was one of them. Do I expect to make that kind of money again? Not for a long time. I went back to school, as did a lot of my co-workers. Am I seeking work now? yes, again like many of my co-workers. this piece just shows that it doesn’t matter if the news reporter is right left or center, as long as some one can or some group can be vilified it will happen.

  12. Suzie says:

    I think we are all missing some majpr points,,,,,we in America need to Buy AMerican Products these jobs loss no matter where they are effect your job and mine just think where these paychecks are spent ! on your jobs and mine . all these paychecks go to local stores , hardwares, Dr, Surgeions Schools and many still buy from other countries.. we all need to wake up and buy american made products and the jobs would come back to everyone in need….

  13. Brett says:

    What was NOT reported was the fact that this specific pickup was basically OUTLAWED by the federal gov’t, due to efficiency, safety, or ‘environmental’ concerns. More likely, it was killed because Ford didn’t take the FEDERAL BAILOUTS, like GM and Chrysler did, and look at what they are putting out, cars with missing BRAKE PADS. Somebody should be in JAIL for this boondoggle.

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