BY ANDREA HOLECEK, Times of Northwest Indiana 
holecek@nwitimes.com

Local UAW union leaders aren't divulging what was discussed in Detroit during Tuesday's meeting of all Ford UAW local presidents and chairmen.

The meeting reportedly had been called to discuss how the union would respond if Ford Motor Co. offers wholesale buyouts to its workers.

"They asked us not to comment," said Bill Jackson, president of UAW Local 588 at the Ford Stamping Plant in Chicago Heights, when responding to questions about the four-hour, closed-door meeting at the UAW-Ford National Development and Training Center.

Instead, Jackson read a statement from Bob King, the UAW's chief Ford negotiator.

"Local union leaders met today to discuss the ideas and input of UAW-Ford workers about the current situation at Ford," King stated. "We're focused on our continued efforts to deliver top-quality vehicles to consumers, because UAW members know that the surest route to job security is a strong recovery for Ford in its core North American market."

Jackson, of Dyer, said it was an excellent meeting with "excellent dialogue."

"It was a very productive meeting," Jackson said Wednesday. " I feel better, but is the concern gone? No. But I think we're addressing the concern, and that helps."

By mid-September, Ford is expected to release an updated version of its Way Forward program, which the automaker announced in January. The amended plan is expected to accelerate plant closings and may identify additional plants to be closed.

In the original Way Forward plan, the company said it would close 14 plants and cut between 22,000 and 24,000 hourly jobs by the end of 2008 -- and 30,000 jobs by 2012.-- through early retirement or buyouts at closing plants. As of Aug. 1, 1,300 union workers had accepted offers.

Ford reportedly expects more than 11,000 of its 87,000 hourly workers to leave the company under the program, and it may expand the job cuts along with the massive production cuts it has announced for the fourth quarter.

Recent news reports -- quoting unidentified company sources -- have said Ford wants to cut more workers through a buyout program similar to General Motors'. That plan allows all eligible workers to accept buyouts as large at $140,000.

Ford hasn't denied or confirmed the reports.

The company employs 1,400 hourly workers at the Stamping Plant and 2,400 more at the Chicago Ford Assembly Plant in Hegewisch. About one-half of the 3,800 union workers live in Indiana, Jackson said.

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