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Published: Friday, 5/19/2006

Reprieve withdrawn for Bluffton factory

BLUFFTON - A seeming last-minute reprieve for workers at a Tower Automotive Inc. factory targeted for closing only lasted three weeks.

The company announced this week it will consolidate most of the production from its Bluffton plant into other Tower facilities in North America, eliminating all but 15 of the 230 hourly and 39 salaried positions at the site.

The announcement follows by just three weeks the company's reversal of a decision to close the plant, which it had notified the state would be done "due to significant uncertainty regarding labor relations."

Company spokesman Joe Kirik said at the time the United Auto Workers union had withdrawn a strike threat so the closing of the plant had been put on hold.

Yesterday, he said the closing announcement wasn't tied to labor talks but was related to company-wide restructuring.

Union officials could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Tower, of Novi, Mich., builds vehicle frames and filed bankruptcy last year. The Bluffton facility produces stampings and assemblies for Ford Motor Co., Automotive Alliance, and DaimlerChrysler.

Mr. Kirik discounted worker concerns that because the plant will still have 15 workers, there will be no severance packages.

"That's nonsense," he said. "All of that is negotiated and it all will be determined."

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