It's My Buyout, I'll Cry If I Want To

     Apparently only Ford trucks are built “tough,” not its union employees – at least according to the Associated Press. AP’s December 26 story about workers considering buyouts was more of a pity party for those getting six-figure payouts to leave their jobs.      

     The story was filled door-to-door with anecdotes designed to provoke sympathy for workers and ignored the concept of personal responsibility. Headlined: “Ford auto workers pick sides, whether they stay or go, the future is uncertain,” the article led with the worst example. That was a 40-year-old man who has two ex-wives and pays child support for one teenage son. The man, Scott Swiercz, chose to stay at a job he knows he could lose rather than take any of eight buyout options, one of which is $100,000 lump sum. Swiercz said it feels “100 percent” like a gamble.

     “Taking the money would mean no job and no health care … taking the buyout would be the equivalent of a third divorce. The math just didn’t work,” wrote AP business writer Ellen Simon.

      But Simon’s statement only represented one attitude. Taking the money would also be the equivalent of a year’s overtime salary to live on until he can find work and relocate if necessary. While it may not seem like enough to workers used to making that much plus health benefits, $100,000 is more than double the U.S. median household income for 2005 or $46,326.

      Swiercz was choosing to gamble that he won’t lose his job at Ford’s Woodhaven Stamping Plant and the reader was supposed to feel bad about his $100,000 compensation.

     Another worker, Rob Williams said he knows people who took the buyouts and started new careers opening a butcher shop, and starting a real estate company. But he also knew some that squandered the opportunity. “One of my buddies took the first round – she’s lying around the couch all day, doing nothing,” Williams told Simon.

     However, Williams stayed and knows that he could be bumped out his job and left with only unemployment benefits. He could have applied for the same kind of work in Tennessee, but he “can barely bring himself to say the word ‘Toyota’,” wrote Simon of Ford’s top competitor.

      Ford’s struggles come as no surprise to current workers, yet many cling to the hope of never having to leave because their union negotiated contracts have given them high pay, huge benefits and nearly guaranteed employment. While it frequently goes unreported, those excessively high costs are a big part of the reason Ford is struggling.


      Despite the fact that 38,000 or about half of Ford’s hourly workers took buyout packages, the story spent more time on those who did not. But Simon even managed to include complaints from a worker getting paid to pursue a new career.

     “[T]hey’re never going to make this kind of money again” said a 50-year-old woman who chose a buyout package of half pay, health insurance and tuition reimbursement of up to $15,000 for the next four years as she pursues a doctorate.

     Nowhere did the article explain that Ford, which has struggled for several years, did not have to offer buyouts. They could have just waited for the union contracts to expire in 2007 and make massive layoffs part of any negotiated deal. Nor did Simon’s article explain that Ford staying in business is better for those employed than Ford going under, and the buyouts were designed to keep them in business.

     Though 38,000 workers have chosen buyouts, only one person quoted was trying to make the best of the situation. Cynthia Allison took the $100,000 buyout and made short and long-term investment decisions. She also moved into a cheaper apartment, was only spending money on necessities and was bartending at night. Allison did not complain about having to leave and expressed gratitude to Ford for “helping me raise my daughters, making it possible as a single parent.”

     Ford may no longer be able to provide that kind of assistance to as many employees, but Simon virtually ignored existing opportunities for those leaving Ford. Other than Williams snub of jobs for Toyota, Simon left out the growth of foreign-owned auto plants in the U.S. that has been previously reported by the Business & Media Institute. Nor did she mention that some places, like the state of Wyoming are desperate for workers because they have more jobs than people, which was reported by NBC “Nightly News” on December 1.