BY ANDREA HOLECEK, Times of Northwest Indiana

CHICAGO | As its chairman begs for a congressional bailout and its sales continue to drop, Ford Motor Co. is cutting production at its two local plants in December.

"We have been aggressive in ensuring we build to real customer demand," Ford spokeswoman Angie Kozleski said Friday. "That may mean we adjust operating schedules accordingly."

Ford will idle production at its Chicago Heights stamping plant for almost four weeks and its Chicago assembly plant for three weeks next month to align production capacity with demand, officials there said.

"People are being laid off who haven't been laid off in decades," said Bill Jackson, president of United Auto Workers Local 588 at the stamping plant.

At least 50 percent of the stamping plant's production is for the Chicago assembly plant, which recently cut one of its two production shifts and lowered its line speed to reduce output.

"The other places we ship are down, too," said Jackson, adding his plant already has slowed production and its staffing is below the 650 normal employee mark. "We'll be partially down the first week. The only people in the plant will be on project work. We'll be down 75 percent. Almost all production is stopping."

The stamping plant will have about 98 percent of its workers on layoff for the following three weeks, Jackson said.

"It's a bottom up layoff, meaning those with the lowest seniority go first," said Jackson, of Dyer.

The Chicago Assembly Plant will cease production for the weeks of Dec. 15, 22 and 29, when the entire company will close for a holiday break returning to work Jan. 5, Kozleski said.

The assembly plant at 130th Street and Torrence Avenue produces the Ford Taurus and Taurus X, the Mercury Sable and the Lincoln MKS. It is staffed by 1,450 hourly members of UAW Local 551 and 110 salaried employees.

The plant eliminated one of its two shifts Nov. 3, reducing its salaried and hourly employee roles by 792. The cuts included more than 600 temporary workers, an unreported number of regular hourly workers and about two dozen salaried employees.
In October, Ford's vehicle sales dropped 29.2 percent compared to the same month in 2007. The automaker's sales fell 18.7 percent for the first 10 months of the year compared to the same year ago period.

October sales of the Taurus dropped 53 percent to 3,299 compared to the 5,361 during same month in 2007, while Taurus X sales crashed by 68.4 percent to 1,329 during October from 4,204 in October 2007. Sales of the Mercury Sable fell 64.5 percent to 645 in October 2008 compared to 1,818 for the same month in 2007.

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