Ford Motor Co. on Thursday said its board of directors has elected Dennis Cirbes as vice president of labor affairs, just months before beginning talks with the UAW on a new contract and planned plant closings.
Ford also said the board elected Bennie Fowler as company vice president and COO for Jaguar and Land Rover and Barbara Gasper as vice president of investor relations for Ford Motor Co.
All three are newly created positions. The changes are effective immediately.
Cirbes, 57, will lead Ford's bargaining with the UAW this year. He takes over this responsibility from Shamel Rushwin.
Also effective immediately, Rushwin moves from his role as vice president of North America business operations, to become Ford visiting university professor. He will lecture on manufacturing, product development and labor relations at U.S. universities.
Cirbes, a 30-year Ford veteran, will oversee labor negotiations for the company's 235,000 hourly workers worldwide, including negotiations with the UAW.
As vice president for labor relations, Cirbes will face a tough challenge with this year's UAW negotiations as Ford attempts to continue its turnaround plan aimed at generating $7 billion in annual pretax profits by mid-decade. Ford's plans call for closing five plants in North America over the next few years, including assembly plants in St. Louis and Edison, N.J.
Ford and other automakers have have been raising alarms about the rising cost of health care for union employees. Ford's unfunded health care liabilities for workers and retirees total about $16 billion. But UAW leaders have repeatedly said health care costs should not be shifted to workers.
Rushwin's former duties will be divided between Cirbes and the manufacturing department.
In their new role, Cirbes and Rushwin report to Joe Laymon, vice president of corporate human resources.
Cirbes most recently was executive director, corporate labor affairs, a position he held since January 2002. Before that, he was director of U.S. union affairs for Ford Motor Co. In that role, Cirbes was one of the leaders in charge of the 1999 UAW-Ford talks, in which Ford spun off Visteon.
Cirbes, who has more than 30 years of experience in labor at Ford, will work closely with Roman Krygier, group vice president for manufacturing and quality. Ford Motor Co. Cirbes joined Ford in 1972 as a benefits planning analyst.
Fowler, 46, is responsible for manufacturing, purchasing and product development at Jaguar and Land Rover. Based in Great Britain, he reports to Bob Dover, chairman and CEO of Jaguar and Land Rover.
Since June 2000, Fowler has been Ford's executive director, North America Product Development. He joined Ford in 1990 as a superintendent at the St. Thomas Assembly Plant in St. Thomas, Ontario, after working for Chrysler Corp. and General Motors.
Fowler also has been vehicle line director of Super Duty F-Series Product and plant manager of Wayne Stamping and Assembly in Wayne, Mich.
Gasper, 48, is responsible for Ford's communication with the financial community and shareholders. She reports to Allan Gilmour, vice president and CFO.
Gasper most recently was senior vice president, investor relations at PricewaterhouseCoopers Consulting. She also has held positions including vice president, investor relations at Lucent Technologies in Murray Hills, N.J., and vice president, investor relations at Raytheon Co. in Lexington, Mass.
Reuters contributed to this report.