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Brand-Loyal Workers Rewarded With Preferred Parking

At a Ford truck plant in Dearborn, Mich., spaces in an adjacent lot will be off-limits to vehicles by other makers.

January 28, 2006|P.J. Huffstutter | Times Staff Writer

DEARBORN, Mich. — In a city where winter high temperatures average in the mid-30s, a good parking spot is as important as thick gloves and a heavy down coat.

But starting Wednesday, only those who drive company-made vehicles will be allowed to park in the employee lot next to the Ford Motor Co.'s truck assembly plant here.

Everyone else -- whether they commute in Hondas, Nissans or Toyotas -- will have to hoof it from a lot across the street.

The parking policy was announced the same week that Ford detailed plans to cut as many as 30,000 jobs and shutter as many as 14 facilities.

"I can't afford another car if I may not have a job," said Darleen Carroll, 48, who has worked for Ford for several years. She wouldn't say what kind of car she drives.

"It'll be cheaper to buy boots."

Countered Alex Sands, 62, a tool and die maker and member of United Auto Workers who has worked for Ford for 42 years: "I only drive Ford. I only buy Ford. Why wouldn't I support my own company?"

The policy is limited to those who work at the Dearborn Truck Assembly Plant -- a sprawling white facility where the nation's second-largest automaker produces its line of F-150 pickup trucks. It's considered the high-tech jewel of the company's historic Rouge River complex, where Henry Ford launched the first assembly line in America.

Workers said that they learned about the plan earlier this week after plant manager Rob Webber told supervisors to spread word of the pending walk of shame for non-Ford vehicle owners. About 2,600 people work at the plant, said Ford Motor Co. spokesman Said Deep.

"It's not a companywide policy, but it's something that plant managers elsewhere have taken upon themselves to do in the past," Deep said.

The lot for exiled brands is across the street and less than a block from the factory. Parking will still be free, company officials said.

The main employee parking, open to Fords and its subsidiary brands, is just outside the plant entrance.

Union officials say brand loyalty once was as much a part of life for Motor City auto workers as stable pay and golden benefits. But as foreign competition, collapsing sales numbers and rising gas prices have sent the domestic industry into a tailspin, the blue-collared esprit de corps has faded.

Officials with UAW Local 600, which represents workers at the truck plant, said they had discussed supporting the parking restriction for months. UAW has barred vehicles made by overseas companies from union parking lots in the past, and has leafleted rivals parked in Ford's Dearborn headquarters.

"When we started seeing more and more foreign cars appear in the parking lot, everyone knew it was time to do something about it," Sands said.

The factory worker's Bronco was among the hundreds of vehicles, many covered in dust and grit, that filled the main employee lot Friday afternoon.

F-Series trucks sat next to flame-decorated Mustangs and Windstar minivans laden with children's sports gear and car seats. One red van, its paint rusted away in spots, sported a bumper sticker that read, "I work for Ford. I drive a Ford."

But tucked here and there were vehicles made by rivals from Asia, Europe and even the U.S.: a tan Toyota Corolla, a silver Jeep Laredo, a red GMC pickup truck.

Written in the dust covering its back window, one Honda Accord carried a simple message to its owner: "Buy Ford."

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