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90 jobs in Coffee County to be cut

Posted on Friday, February 17, 2017 at 10:15 am

UTC Aerospace to lay off 90

By Kelly Lapczynski, Staff Writer

Approximately 90 workers at the United Technologies Corp. Aerospace Systems (UTC Aerospace; UTAS) landing systems manufacturing plant in Tullahoma will be looking for new jobs soon following approval late last month of a new labor contract.

Just prior to the Jan. 31 expiration of its UTAS contract, United Steelworkers Local 6817, representing hourly employees at the Tullahoma plant, voted to accept a new four-year labor contract that came with a significant reduction in the workforce.

According to UTAS spokesperson Melissa Noebes, the workforce reductions are “directly tied to declining manufacturing volumes, resulting from program wind-down and completed contracts, as well as the loss of a major contract.”

The manufacturing demand, she said, simply isn’t there.

Though Noebes did not elaborate, United Technologies is in some part responsible for that lack of demand.  The major contract loss to which she referred was a multi-year contract with Boeing for which United Technologies made itself ineligible to bid.

In 2013, Boeing’s then chief executive Jim McNerney made clear that companies who refused to make the price cuts he demanded to lower Boeing’s costs would be placed on what he called a “no-fly” list and would not be allowed to bid on new programs.

United Technologies refused to cut prices and McNerney was true to his word.  That year, HDI Landing Gear USA, Inc., a wholly-owned subsidiary of Canadian manufacturer Heroux-Devtek, won the Boeing contract to supply complete landing gear systems for the Boeing 777, for which United Technologies had been the incumbent supplier.

Under its new contract for the 777 and new 777X program, Heroux-Devtek has already made the first of its scheduled “early 2017” deliveries.  As United Technologies completes work on its expiring Boeing contract over the next month, roughly one-third of Tullahoma landing gear workers will be displaced.

“We’ve been very slow for months now,” said a union source inside the company. “We assumed there was going to be a layoff.  We just didn’t know it was going to be this bad.”

In fact, the source said, union workers anticipating a layoff had been prepared to strike before the results of negotiation were announced just one hour before the union vote.  When workers discovered the scope of the layoff, however, they opted to vote in favor of the new contract that included detailed severance packages and protections that a strike would not.  There was no work to fight for.

Under the terms of the agreement, workers will be given two options.  They can accept the layoff with severance and retain their right to return to work in future or they can opt for a voluntary separation which will entitle them to greater severance compensation but will forfeit their right to be called back.

“We worked closely with union officials to develop a package that will help ease the burden on our employees and their families,” said Noebes.  “We will start with a voluntary severance program, and support all of our impacted employees with extended benefits, plus education and outplacement support.

“The process will be done in stages through the first half of the year, and we will keep employees well informed along the way.”

The official WARN Act notice, guaranteeing workers of large employers 60 days’ notice of plant closings or workforce reduction, is expected to be filed Wednesday.

In addition to the mass layoff at UTAS, United Technologies is also closing its Carrier facility in Smyrna.

United Technologies Carrier workers were notified in January that the Weakley Lane warehouse and distribution center would permanently close in March.

According to the company’s WARN Act filing, those 64 workers were not represented by a collective bargaining agreement.

Kelly Lapczynski may be reached by email at tnrept01@lcs.net.