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Ford shutting down Chicago Assembly Plant next week, temporarily laying off workers
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Ford shutting down Chicago Assembly Plant next week, temporarily laying off workers

From the ICYMI: Here are the most-read stories from the past week series
Chicago Assembly Plant to shut down again over semiconductor shortage

Explorers roll off the line at the Chicago Assembly Plant in 2019.

Ford plans to temporarily shut down the Chicago Assembly Plant and lay off workers next week as a result of the global semiconductor shortage that's greatly disrupted the automotive industry.

The automotive plant on the banks of the Calumet River on Chicago's far South Side, just across the state line, will be shuttered for the week along with Ford's Flat Rock Assembly Plant, Dearborn Truck Plant and Louisville Assembly Plant. Ford also plans to shut down the transit side of the Kansas City Assembly Plant and operate the Ohio Assembly Plant at a reduced level because of parts shortfalls.

The shutdown will affect thousands of automotive jobs at the Chicago Assembly Plant in Hegewisch, the Chicago Stamping Plant in Chicago Heights, and at suppliers throughout the Region such as Lear Corp. in Hammond and Flex-N-Gate on the South Side.

Lear, for instance, makes seats for the Ford Explorer, Lincoln Aviator and Police Interceptor Utility that are manufactured at the Chicago Assembly Plant. They are delivered with no inventories built up so the supplier's operations are synced with Ford's.

Ford made 1.7 million cars, pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles in the United States in 2020, or 188,000 more than any other automaker, accounting for about one in five vehicles manufactured in the U.S., according to IHS Markit's 2020 light vehicle production and sales data.

"The global shortage is affecting all automotive manufacturers as well as other industries," Ford Vice President of Manufacturing and Labor Affairs John Savona wrote in a letter to workers. "Our MP&L, purchasing and manufacturing teams have been working tirelessly to find solutions to keep our plants running so you can continue building high-quality vehicles that continue to be in high demand among our dealers and customers. One of those solutions is sequencing down weeks, allowing us to keep building our must-have vehicles for customers when we have adequate parts suppliers."

The global semiconductor shortage was caused by coronavirus pandemic-related disruptions and natural disasters. It's particularly dire for automakers because cars rely more on computers as they become more technologically advanced, such as with lane-assist and collision-avoidance systems.

Ford already had to reduce operations to one shift for a week at the Chicago Assembly Plant earlier this year. The Alliance for Automotive Innovation estimates the auto industry in America could end up producing 1 million fewer cars this year as a result of the parts shortages.

Dearborn-based Ford is canceling the traditional summer shutdowns when maintenance is done at the plants and workers go on vacation because of the production disruptions.

"We understand these schedule disruptions are inconvenient," Savona wrote in the letter to workers. "We also appreciate that this year's summer schedule may be disappointing to those who look forward to time away during the traditional shutdown weeks. We thank you for your flexibility, understanding and your dedication — as we've seen throughout COVID-19 challenges and this year's semiconductor shortages. We will get through this, working together, and we appreciate all you do for Ford every day."

Coming Sunday, see a day in the life of Michigan City Police Officer Brian Wright.

The United Auto Workers union encouraged its members to file for unemployment insurance benefits while the plant was idled next week.

Ford employs 5,810 workers at the Chicago Assembly Plant and 1,290 at the Chicago Stamping Plant. Thousands more work at Tier 1 suppliers like the Lear factory in Hammond just south of the East Chicago South Shore Line train station.

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Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.

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