Ford Motor Co. is investing $50 million and converting 450 temporary union workers to full-time at its Chicago Assembly Plant as it converts a nearby modification center to handle final assembly of the electrified versions of its Explorer and Aviator crossovers.
The move, which takes effect in the fourth quarter, allows Ford to free the main line at Chicago Assembly for gasoline versions of both vehicles. The 200,000-square-foot modification center, about a mile from Chicago Assembly, previously handled the automaker's Police Interceptors. That work will move to another building.
The temporary workers being converted to full-time will come from the Chicago Assembly Plant and the Chicago Stamping Plant, and Ford plans to hire more workers to replace them.
Joe Hinrichs, Ford's president of automotive, told Automotive News Monday the move will allow the automaker to make up some production lost to the new models' launch curve and could lead to increased production in 2020.
The announcement comes a week after handshakes with the UAW to open what's expected to be tense negotiations over jobs, investment and wages. Ford has surpassed the $900 million it agreed to invest in Chicago Assembly as part of its 2015 contract.
One particular area of concern: use of temporary workers. The union wants more guarantees that those workers can reach full-time status.
"When we work together we can find creative solutions," Hinrichs said. "And this is a really creative solution."
Ford got the idea, Hinrichs said, after building some preproduction models of the Explorer and Aviator at the center.
Bodies will be shipped from the main assembly plant to the center, where they will go through final assembly. The products will then be shipped back to the assembly plant's customer acceptance line for a final check.
The Explorer and Aviator share a new rear-wheel-drive platform. The Explorer will come with a hybrid option while the Aviator will get a plug-in hybrid model, called the Aviator Grand Touring.