Dennis Frantz first started to feel uneasy about the future of his plant about two years ago, and that was when Wixom Assembly still had more than one shift and Frantz still had a job to do.
But workers like Frantz said they saw the writing on the wall. Ford has since significantly reduced production at the plant, and Frantz, 61, has gone into the jobs bank, a program that requires Ford to pay workers out of a special fund even if there are no cars for them to build.
"I go in, essentially, check in, check out and get paid," Frantz, a vehicle inspector, said while eating his lunch at a bagel shop across the street from the plant.
"I'm conflicted. I'm a little old school in thinking that you really shouldn't get paid for not doing anything. But on the other hand, it's been a real nice thing for me and the other guys in it," he said.
On Monday, workers in Wixom, where Ford makes its Lincoln Town Car, learned their plant would be one of 14 Ford factories to close by 2012. In announcing the plant closings along with 30,000 job cuts, Ford said its size had outgrown its place in the global automobile market.
"The hard but simple reality is that Ford has the costs, capacity and staffing of a company that is much larger than our sales and market share can support," said Mark Fields, the head of North and South American divisions for Ford, in an address broadcast to Ford workers at plants across the country.
That reality has become evident to workers like Frantz and Gary Drewery, another Wixom plant worker, who both agree Ford cannot survive unless it cuts back. The prospect of further cutbacks place programs like the jobs bank at risk when Ford renegotiates its contract with the UAW next year.
"It's just like any other entity -- survival of the fittest," said Drewery, 52, a line worker who has been at Ford since 1988.
For auto workers in Wixom and across the country, the cutbacks at Ford combined with a similar plan at General Motors signal a new reality -- one in which US$30-an-hour wages and generous benefits are no longer a guarantee.
"These were jobs that were often passed from father to son, and you knew you could always get one," said Gary Chaison, a professor of industrial relations at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts. "But not anymore."
James Crawford, 39, a painter at the Wixom plant, started his career with Ford 18 years ago when his father was one of the plant's managers.
"When I was hired back in the '80s, I figured I'd have a good life and retire from here," he said.
But this is no longer his father's Ford Motor Co. With his financial security now in doubt, Crawford, wearing a black jacket with a United Auto Workers logo on the breast, added: "It's traumatic, really. You don't know what you're going to do or if you have a future."