By CJ Dablo
“P. C. Bob” Loftin commutes an hour from his Riverside home to his job at the Boeing Long Beach facility for a shift that begins at 3pm and ends at 11:30pm. At 57, Loftin has spent nearly three decades working for the aerospace industry, but with Boeing’s recent announcement of job cuts, he’s worried.
Boeing announced last week that the Long Beach facility will be eliminating 900 positions by 2012 since orders have been down.
Loftin’s family depends on him. His son and daughter are both out of work and live at home. His wife Rhonda, also a Boeing employee, learned that she would likely be laid off from her job at the Carson facility in February. As workers who have dedicated their lives to the aerospace industry, Loftin and his wife are among Boeing’s workers in their 50s in Southern California who fear for their future and worry that time just isn’t on their side.
“Morale is on the bottom,” Loftin said. “Morale is very low. You can’t have pride in your work if they’re going to snatch it out from under you. Your pride is gone.”
Loftin and many of his co-workers have decades of experience in an industry for which there are few similar jobs in California. Union representatives are acknowledging that workers are distressed by the news.
“ They’re anxious. . .every emotion you can think of, they’re going through right now because, as the company is trying to have them continue doing their work, they’re wondering how they’re going to pay for their health care,” said Stanley Klemchuk, president of the United Aerospace Workers Local 148 (UAW). UAW represents many of the workers associated with manufacturing the C-17 airplane in the Long Beach and Carson facilities. “They’re wondering where they’re going to find the next job and feed their kids and their family. I have never, in the 30 years that I have been with this company, seen the devastation that I have seen in the past couple months with the latest announcement from the company.”
Some employees will retire or get redeployed to other positions.
“We’ll try to redeploy as many as we can, but when you have a number of 900, there are going to be layoffs,” said Boeing spokesman Fernando Vivanco. It was not an easy decision for the company, Vivanco acknowledged.
“Whether it’s one employee or more than one employee, when you bring it down to the individual level, it is a big impact,” Vivanco said, recognizing that individuals and their families would be deeply affected.
Boeing had employed approximately 3,700 employees who worked on the C-17 plane before they announced the layoffs. According to Vivanco, the cuts will be staggered over a period of time. Boeing will eliminate approximately 400 jobs this year, and about 500 next year.
The cuts affect a large number of the local union employees. According to UAW representatives, nearly 1,700 workers at the Long Beach and Carson facilities belong to the UAW, but there are other non-union employees who are subject to the workforce reductions.
“Boeing reductions are not targeting unions,” Vivanco said. “These reductions are going to impact the entire workforce on the C-17 program,” he said, adding that they will be cutting hourly, salary, union, and management positions.
But Boeing’s plans to slow down production of their C-17 aircraft will still add scores of workers to the ranks of California’s unemployed. Workers in their 50s who aren’t yet ready to retire worry about their job prospects when they are competing against a younger workforce.
The Pacific Gateway Workforce Investment Network, a community network resource that is working with Boeing’s human-resources department to offer career transition assistance, said that the workers should not lose hope. According to a Pacific Gateway executive, job seekers can successfully reinvent themselves to continue a career path.
“We know that the job market is still tough,” said Bryan Rogers, executive director for Pacific Gateway. “Obviously, the local and regional economy is making a slow comeback. There are jobs out there, and there are emerging opportunities. . . And so it’s not a lost cause, and most importantly, we’ve really got a strong support system here to help people while they make their career transition.”
There is an additional plan to ease the number of layoffs, but the success of the plan depends on older workers who may not want to retire either.
According to Klemchuk, most of the employees in the union are in their 50s, but there are employees in their 70s and even 80s who are still working at the plant. That age range may influence how many employees will be laid off.
Union representatives said that a new workforce-reduction plan encourages senior employees to take a voluntary lay-off (VLO) package. The company is offering a limited number of VLO packages which include a lump-sum payment.
According to Klemchuk, workforce reductions will be issued every month, when they will announce the job classifications that will be up for elimination. For every employee in that classification who chooses to take a VLO and retire, the company will not need to lay off a younger employee.
“So we believe it’s a win-win for both the company and the union,” Klemchuk said, estimating that hundreds of VLOs will be offered to qualifying employees between now and August. “It allows the more senior employees to retire with the dignity and respect that they deserve, and at the same time maybe saving a job for a less senior employee that might have been targeted.”
Employees 55 and over who have worked for 30 or more years will mostly be offered the VLO, however not everyone who qualifies will choose to take the VLO package. That decision– who should stay, who should go– is creating pressure on the older workers, according to Klemchuk.
“People have the right to work as long as they want,” Klemchuk said. “But reality is, it is creating a divide among the less senior and the more senior. That’s something we don’t want.”
Boeing did not confirm the demographics of the employees who are affected and did not release the specifics of their retirement packages. The company has told the UAW that they are seeking to eliminate 26 more hourly positions in February.
Loftin and his family in the meantime are bracing for every future announcement of layoffs, hoping from month to month that they won’t need to leave the company and the people they know well. He is approaching his 30-year service anniversary in a few months. He doesn’t know if the company will still be able to offer a VLO by that time. Even if he does qualify for a VLO, he hasn’t decided whether he would take the deal. “If I had my choice,” he said. “I’d rather still work. ”