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Tue, Apr 18, 2006

Boeing To Lay Off 25 Percent Of Wichita Workers

Cites Defense Budget Cuts

Boeing announced it will cut 25 percent of its work force -- or 900 jobs -- in three rounds of layoffs at its Wichita, KS facilities. Those layoffs will begin Tuesday, with approximately 360 workers receiving 60-day layoff notices.

Boeing says a review of the funds Boeing is likely to receive in the wake of tightened defense budgets -- and a reassessment of the site's future business plan -- led to the layoffs.

"Since December 2005, our customers have informed us of significant shifts in their budget and programs," Boeing Wichita general manager Derek McLuckey said Monday to the Wichita Eagle. "This has a profound impact on the work we perform and has forced us to refocus our business in Wichita."

"The layoffs... are unfortunate but necessary to meet the challenges of our business," McLuckey added.

Boeing's decision will reduce the number of workers at its Wichita plants from 3,600 to about 2,700 by early 2007 -- but the impact will be felt throughout the community in even greater numbers, said Janet Harrah, director of the Center for Economic Development and Business Research at Wichita State University.

The jobs to be cut were high-paying jobs, Harrah said, but that's not the worst of it: each job at Boeing supports two other service-sector jobs in Wichita's economy. Including the roughly $69 million to be cut from Boeing's total Wichita payroll, the cuts represent about $145.1 million in lost payroll for the Wichita economy.

Boeing's decision comes as the aerospace industry as a whole is gearing up for increased commercial and military contracts -- but other programs are being cut, and most of those were programs the Wichita plant played key roles in.

The FY2007 defense budget scaled back the E-4B mobile command center aircraft program, for example, and scaled back the Airborne Laser program -- projects that were being handled in Wichita. The budget also did not include money to equip B-52 bombers with electronics jamming systems -- a program that Boeing Wichita was in the running for.

After the layoffs and subsequent restructuring, McLuckey said the Wichita site will focus primarily on military programs involving the Boeing 747 and wide-body aircraft modifications and upgrades.

The Wichita facilities will also continue as an engineering center -- for how long, however, is a question many in Wichita are asking.

"Are we on a glide slope to a plant closure here?" asked Bob Brewer, Midwest director for the SPEEA union, which represents about 140 of the workers due to get their pink slips.

Boeing's McLuckey maintains that is not the case -- and that furthermore, the company is going out of its way to help those who are losing their jobs in Wichita to find new jobs.

To that end, Boeing has opened an Employee Transition Center, which will offer computers, Internet access, a fax machine, printers and telephones to assist in job searches. The company will also offer classes on resume writing, job hunting and interviewing skills in the coming weeks.

The Eagle reports Boeing is also working with a variety of agencies -- such as the United Way of the Plains, and the Kansas Department of Labor -- to establish an information center about available community resources for displaced workers.



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