CAW: Ford To Close Canadian Plant

ST. THOMAS, Ont. (CP) -- Ford will shut down its St. Thomas assembly plant in 2011 and the workers can do little to stop it, their national president says.

The Canadian Auto Workers union and Ford of Canada are in talks on a concessionary collective agreement to cut Ford's costs, a step the union is willing to take if Ford brings new investment and jobs to Canada.

But, CAW president Ken Lewenza said Tuesday the company will not invest in the St. Thomas plant.

"They told us they are going to close the plant. They do not have product after 2011 and there are no plans to give us a product. "

"They do not see a future in St. Thomas. That is their terminology."

Closing the huge plant would add 1,500 job losses to the hard-hit St. Thomas-Southwold Township area, outside of London, Ont., where manufacturing has taken a beating during the recession.

Ford has been the largest employer since Sterling Truck in St. Thomas closed in March, cutting 2,000 workers.

"I am not sure if we are at the bottom yet, but I feel like I am in an elevator falling down a shaft here," said Bob Hammersley, chief executive of the St. Thomas Chamber of Commerce. "I just hope there is a spring down there somewhere."

Opened in 1967, the region's first modern car factory, the sprawling Ford plant has cranked out a wide range of vehicles --from the Ford Pinto to the Ford Escort and the big Crown Victoria, Mercury Grand Marquis and Lincoln Town Car sedans it still builds.

Workers will continue to fight for the jobs in case there's a glimmer of hope, said Scott Smith, chairperson of CAW Local 1520 at the plant.

"I am not giving up -- they (Ford) have not said publicly it is closing. They have said there is no product there after 2011," he said. "My gut is telling me we have a very serious situation here . . . there will be a lot of pain that goes along with this."

Ford has said it needs the same cuts to its union contract given to General Motors and Chrysler, which received federal and provincial loans to keep them from bankruptcy on the condition they get a less costly deal from their workforces.

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