Sunday, April 8, 2007

Final day at Ford bittersweet for scores of salaried workers

Final day at Ford bittersweet for scores of salaried workers

Janak Mehta, 29, business analyst, 4 years at Ford: 'It's a shake-up time but Ford will come back.

DEARBORN -- Teary long-timers hauled boxes brimming with photos and dusty folders to their cars Wednesday, while their co-workers hosted laughter-filled farewell lunches at local haunts.
In one restaurant, 60-year-old Joe Burnstein handed out business cards marked "Retiree at Large" that featured a photo of him wearing a Hawaiian shirt.
In another, Diane Faught reminisced about how a mailroom stint in the mid-1970s turned into a 30-year career.
Such bittersweet scenes played out throughout the city Wednesday, as the last wave of white-collar workers taking buyouts from Ford Motor Co. left their cubicles for a final time and said goodbye to a company and co-workers they've come to think of as family.
"I'm going to go back to my office, turn in my badge, pick up my empty pop cans and start the rest of my life," Glenn Kern said, following a farewell lunch at Cheli's Chili. "It's going to be hard."
The automaker began offering buyouts to salaried workers last fall in an effort to trim 10,000 jobs. Employees had until Feb. 19 to sign up.
Ford isn't saying exactly how many opted for a buyout, but it's clear that a seismic shift is taking place throughout Ford's operations.
Doug Wood wept as he walked out of Ford World Headquarters on Wednesday afternoon for the last time after 22 years.
"Today was a day of going in and realizing you're going to see a lot of people for the last time," said Wood, of Madison Heights.
Area restaurants were brimming with farewell parties Wednesday. Lunch business at Andiamo Dearborn has nearly doubled since January, as Ford employees gather for retirement parties.
Workers reminisced about the big moments they shared with co-workers and the minutia they just realized they're going to miss: daily commutes to Dearborn, morning office banter, lunch with friends.
"It hasn't fully hit me yet," said Burnstein, 60, of Oak Park, who's been with Ford 38 years. He was glad co-workers thought to bring a box of tissues to his lunch.
"But when I think today is my last day -- that I won't be going back to work -- it chokes me up," he said. "A lot of great people work here."
Roger Engleman's co-workers honored him with a framed caricature that accentuated his wavy hair. Co-workers signed the picture as they ate pasta at Andiamo Dearborn.
Engleman, 55, said his workday Wednesday, his last at Ford after 21 years, was finished before noon, as he just filled out some paperwork before departing.
"When I went through the door for the last time I didn't have many emotions," he said. "It will take time to settle in."
Engleman, of Fowlerville, said he was unsure if he'd retire for good or look for a job. His long-term plan is to live in warm Phoenix.
Others are forging into the future with similar uncertainty. Many are in their early to mid-50s, not typical retirement age.
But not all of those departing the company are Ford veterans.
Janak Mehta, a 29-year-old business analyst from Detroit, plans to use the buyout to expand his real estate investing business and start an online public relations firm. Mehta said many of his fellow 20- and 30-something colleagues jumped at the buyouts.
"They're excited to go for further studies and some are getting married and taking a new job somewhere out of Michigan," he said.

Several described the atmosphere within Ford's offices as similar to a high school graduation, with co-workers exchanging hugs and handshakes and rushing to get one another's e-mail addresses and phone numbers.
In one department, employees had T-shirts printed that read: "Ford Retiree, Class of 2007."
Ashok Dharmani, 58, of Rochester Hills was working up to 4 p.m. on a last-minute project assigned by his boss in the design department.
A self-described Ford loyalist, Dharmani is proud to have convinced his brother-in-law to buy a Lincoln this week.
"It all came so fast, I haven't had time to think about it yet," he said.
Earlier in the day, Faught laughed with co-workers who joined her at Cheli's to mark the end of a three-decade career at Ford.
She was 25 in January 1977 and desperate for work when a neighbor who worked at Ford got her a spot in the mailroom.
She worked her way up through the company, eventually getting a degree -- paid for by Ford -- and landing a job as a supervisor.
"At the time, I was so appreciative just to have any job," she said. "I've been through so many cutbacks, I feel lucky to get 30 years. I feel the time is right now."

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