Thursday, January 20, 2011

C-17A workforce cuts announced by Boeing

Stung by dwindling domestic demand and efforts to slow production, Boeing said it plans to cut 900 more workers from its local C-17 workforce by late 2012.

The downsizing, announced late Wednesday, is the latest in a series of reductions to Long Beach's once-mighty aerospace industry, where employment has dropped from more than 20,000 in the 1990 s to less than 7,000 today.

And it comes on the heels of a painful year in which more than 1,000 local Boeing jobs were outsourced, transferred or simply cut amid a company-wide restructuring program.

About 200 positions at C-17 sub-assembly plants in Georgia, Arizona and Missouri will also be eliminated by late 2012.

Boeing said the cuts are needed to prepare for a reduced C-17 production schedule, which is 14 annually, to 10 beginning this summer.

"This has been a very difficult position, no question about it," said Bob Ciesla, C-17 program manager. "I've been working on the C-17 for 20 years and I personally know a lot of the great people who work on this (jet), so it's weighing heavily on me. But it's simply something that needed to be done."

Ciesla said cuts would be made "across the board," and include assembly workers, accountants, mid-level management, engineering and research, among other areas.

"Reducing the number of C-17 s we delivery every year - and doing that with a smaller workforce - will allow us to keep the production line open beyond 2012, protect jobs and give potential customers more time to finalize their airlift requirements," Ciesla said.

Affected workers will receive 60-day notices beginning Friday, with layoffs staggered monthly through late 2012.

Ciesla estimates about 400 will be let go this year, followed by 500 in 2012.

Stan Klemchuck, president of United Aerospace Workers Local 148, which represents about 1,700 workers in Long Beach, said employees received news of the intended layoffs Wednesday afternoon.

"People are obviously devastated," Klemchuck said. "Between this and recent layoffs at the (Carson) warehouse facility, it's been overwhelming. The jobs are just drying up."

Mayor Bob Foster released the following statement on the layoffs announcement: The C-17 program is an important economic asset for the State, the region, and the City. While Boeing's announcement today is difficult and disconcerting, it is not entirely unexpected, as the Federal government has decreased orders for this workhorse aircraft.

"Our rich history of aerospace manufacturing makes this an emotional day for Long Beach, as the C-17 plant is the last of what was previously a robust aerospace manufacturing industry in California. The impacts from these reductions will affect the State and the region, and is not constrained only to Long Beach," Foster said.

"We will continue our efforts to support Boeing in generating additional orders to preserve the thousands of jobs that remain, and our Workforce Investment Board will commit resources to assist affected employees during this difficult period."

Boeing, the city's largest private employer, announced cutbacks come in the wake of recent plans to transfer 800 engineering and research position to Oklahoma by year's end and close a parts and supply warehouse in Carson this summer.

Boeing said it's closing the 300,000-square-foot Carson site after nearly 20 years to save money, and will be outsourcing the work to a contractor in Santa Fe Springs.

More than 160 jobs are affected by the plant closure.

Boeing said that where possible, affected employees will be offered positions elsewhere in the company.

Layoff counts may also be reduced through attrition and retirement, though it remains to be seen how many people will volunteer for an early exit.

The latest round of cuts will bring Boeing's C-17 production payroll to about 2,800 by late 2012, from the current 3,700 employees.

Another 3,500 work in Long Beach in Boeing sales, marketing, research, design and other programs, with an additional 1,000 or so employed at the company's satellite facility in Seal Beach.

The C-17 has been widely popular since production began in 1993. The U.S. Air Force has purchased 206 to date, with others owned by Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

India and Kuwait have placed orders for a combined 11 C-17 s, and Boeing is reportedly talking with other nations that include Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Oman and South Africa.

If approved as expected in coming months, the deal with India's Air Force should keep Long Beach's C-17 production line humming through 2013 - only with a reduced workforce.

(Kristopher Hanson - Long Beach Press Telegram)

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