ACH could be sold, could be idled

SANDUSKY When it comes to the future of hundreds of workers, uncertainty seems to exist on an indust
Annie Zelm
May 24, 2010

SANDUSKY

When it comes to the future of hundreds of workers, uncertainty seems to exist on an industrial scale.

Automotive Component Holdings, Erie County's largest industrial employer, may be forced to shut down operations at its Sandusky plant if the plant is not purchased soon, a spokeswoman said.

"We would expect to make decisions this year, over the next several months," ACH spokeswoman Della DiPietro said Wednesday.

DiPietro dispelled rumors ACH could be sold back to Ford.

She said ACH is continuing conversations with the Michigan-based Meridian Automotive Systems Inc. The companies signed a non-binding memorandum of understanding in June 2007, stating Meridian's intentions to acquire ACH if certain collective bargaining agreements and closing conditions were resolved.

"The mission is for all of our operations to continue to work toward sale, and that's of course what we're focused on in Sandusky," she said. "If sale is not possible, we will make plans for idling."

ACH formed in 2005 for the purpose of restructuring Ford operations and marketing them for sale. It owns 10 other automotive plants, three of which are scheduled to be idled by the end of the year in southeast Michigan, DiPietro said.

Another Indianapolis plant is scheduled to begin gradually idling in 2010. Two other plants, as well as one production line from a closed plant, were sold.

"With the three that were sold, the vast majority of the jobs were preserved," DiPietro said, although she declined to comment on how many jobs were lost in the transition or comment on the new salary ranges for employees at those plants.

The Sandusky plant, Ohio's only ACH-owned facility, primarily produces front, rear and signal lighting for Ford vehicles and employs approximately 1,000 workers -- 250 of whom are temporary workers on an hourly wage, DiPietro said.

Several ACH workers said they've heard a slew of rumors about what could potentially happen to their jobs, but very few facts.

"I don't know what to think," said a robotics assembler who declined to use her name. "We have several union representatives, and each one gives you a different answer -- so no one knows what's true and what's not."

The assembler, who started working at the plant three years ago, said she already signed a form stating she would willingly transfer to another plant location but said employees who sign are only allowed one chance to refuse an opening at another location.

"It's hard on people who have kids in high school or parents who are elderly," she said. "Luckily, my kids are grown, so it's easier to move -- but I just got my first grandchild, so that would make it harder."

Erie County Economic Development Corporation executive director Mark Litten said if the ACH plant is idled, the situation could be "catastrophic" to the local economy.

"We're hopeful that a buyer will be identified and that the plant will continue operating, making parts and employing local citizens," Litten said. "The alternative is not a good situation."

Correction: A headline on this story earlier today incorrectly stated ACH would not be sold.