Ford workers make tough decisions


Twin Cities Ford plant sign
Workers at St. Paul's Ford plant had a tough decision to make. (MPR File Photo)

Steve Dybvik is starting to think that the closing of the St. Paul Ford Plant and the loss of his job may turn out to be a good thing for him and his family.

"I'm trying to use it as a positive step and not [that] this is just a life-ending thing," Dybvik said. "It's made me get up and do something about it and hopefully it's going to work for the best."

Dybvik has been at the plant for more than 11 years. That wasn't long enough to make him eligible for any of the retirement or early retirement options open to other workers who were there longer.

That narrowed Dybvik's choices to three basic directions. He could go for one of the education options, under which Ford would pay up to $15,000 a year in tuition costs for as long as four years. He'd also get health insurance and a portion of his salary. Or, he could skip the buyout, stick with Ford and apply to transfer to another plant when the St. Paul factory closes. The remaining option was to accept a one-time cash payment from Ford. He'd get $100,000, and six months of health insurance.

Dybvik says it wasn't an easy choice for him and his wife to make.

"One day you'd think, 'maybe this is the option.' The next day you'd think, 'maybe not,'" Dybvik said. "It was a lot of that until we finally talked it out and figured it all out and I did choose the cash option buyout."

Steve Dybvik's wife Brenda says the decision to go with the one-time $100,000 payment came down to the choice between a gamble and a sure thing. She says the education option and the transfer option both hinge on the future of Ford Motor Co. That didn't sound like a good bet to her.

"We were not really sure where the company was going so that really scared us away from relocating with the company," she said. "The educational opportunity was really attractive, but again with the company not knowing where it was headed and what the future was--you're expecting this to be paid for and then they pull out because they're not doing well financially. We just felt it was best to pull out and invest in our future that way."

Brenda and Steve Dybvik have a reason to be optimistic. Steve has two promising job leads right now to go along with his six-figure cash payment from Ford.

For David Kulawczyk the situation has been nearly the opposite. He didn't agonize over choosing a buyout plan. And he's clearly downcast as he comes to the end of his career at Ford.

"It's really depressing to see a plant go down," he said.

Kulawczyk has been at the St. Paul plant for 25 years. He worked for the company in Detroit for four years before that. Ford workers normally retire after 30 years, but workers who've been there close to that length, like Kulawczyk, were given the option to take a year-long leave at 85 percent pay and then retire with full benefits.

"It was the plan for me," Kulawczyk said. "There wasn't too much choice for me being close to retirement age."

However, Kulawczyk has to pass up a bonus. If he'd started working at Ford just a few days earlier back in 1977, he would have been eligible for a five-figure parting gift.

"There was a $35,000 bonus to retire Sept. 1, but I missed that by 10 days," he said.

This is Kulawczyk's second plant closing. He came to St. Paul 25 years ago when the Detroit factory he worked in shut down. If he was a younger man, David Kulawczyk says he would have gone for one of the education options. He also could have kept working at the plant for a year and then retired, but like Dybviks, he says it's time to move on.