A new perk from Ford, Delta: cheap PCs and Web access

Most companies offer workers benefits, but not many provide a home computer and subsidized Internet `access - at least not yet.

In a deal reminiscent of Henry Ford offering workers enough money to buy the cars they built, Ford Motor Company and Delta Air Lines each announced this month they will offer a free home computer and subsidized Internet access to their employees.

Both companies want to keep their workers abreast of technology and communications tools for the 21st century.

Ford, with its industrial history, is especially keen on breaking into today's fast-moving information and service economy. President and CEO Jacques Nasser has been pushing suppliers, dealers, and customers to interact with the company on the Web.

Trying to bring Ford's 350,000 workers online could soften the potential blow to factory workers as the company moves to outsource assembly of some car components. Computer skills may help some employees move into new roles

Employees at Ford's partsmaking subsidiary Visteon will also be included in the deal that offers hourly and salaried workers a high-speed computer, a color printer, and a 56k modem connection to the Internet for $5 a month.

Jim Yost, Ford's chief information officer, says 40 percent to 50 percent of Ford's customers shop online before they buy. The subsidized-computer program should give employees the same access to company information and competitive data. "It's important for employees to understand how customers perceive us," says Mr. Yost.

Ford is also considering a program that would include dealers, who have lobbied in state legislatures against the company's efforts to sell new and used cars directly online. Last month, dealers in Texas successfully shut down a program to sell used Fords in that state over the Internet.

Ford and Delta employees who already own home computers can also take advantage of the offer. Delta's offer costs $12 a month, but those among the company's 80,000 workers who already have computers could pay less.

Critics have decried the programs as pushing employees to take extra work home. But employees aren't complaining.

"It's great [if only] for the printer," says Kathleen Hamilton, a Ford employee in New York. "We have some old machines at home, but it will be great to have something cutting-edge, and a computer of my own."

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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