Bell Helicopter offers early retirement to some employees

Posted Wednesday, Mar. 06, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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FORT WORTH -- Bell Helicopter is making early retirement offers to employees age 55 and older as it moves to tighten its belt in the face of looming budget cuts in Washington.

The announcement comes as North Texas defense contractors await the details of program cuts caused by sequestration, the automatic reduction of $85 billion in federal spending this year triggered on March 1 by the budget impasse.

"As you know, we are expecting a decrease in military programs in the coming years,'' Bell president and CEO John Garrison wrote employees early Wednesday. "Sequestration remains a threat to our business."

"While we don't yet know the full impact that it will have, early indicators point to a significant reduction in U.S. government spending,'' he wrote.

Bell offered a similar early retirement package last year. This year's package is being offered to full-time, non-union employees with two or more years of experience, Bell spokesman William Schroeder said.

The company is still determining the number of eligible employees. It did not provide any details about the buyout package.

Bell has 6,000 employees in Tarrant County, and 11,000 employees nationwide.

Several weeks ago, Lockheed announced a similar voluntary separation program. That package provides a lump-sum payment to those with 25 years of seniority. Since August, 235 employee applicants for the program have been accepted, Lockheed spokesman Ken Ross said Wednesday.Both aerospace companies have had recent layoffs.

Bell, which has not had significant layoffs in recent years, last week announced 15 layoffs of hourly workers, with all but two people finding other positions within the company. In the past few months, Lockheed Martin has laid off more than 300 workers at its factory on the west side of Fort Worth.

Lockheed has 14,200 employees in Tarrant County. Any layoffs triggered by the sequester at Lockheed Martin will be announced companywide, Ross said.

"As we have previously stated, if warranted, we will provide affected employees the full notice period required by jurisdictional WARN Acts for covered layoff activity at the appropriate time," he said.

In his message to employees, Garrison said that he anticipates reductions in orders for the V-22 tilt-rotor aircraft that will impact operations in Fort Worth and Amarillo in 2013.

Under Garrison's leadership, Bell has undertaken a major renovation of its Fort Worth headquarters, which will consolidate several facilities into its home campus in east Fort Worth.

The company has also launched a renewed effort to develop new products for the commercial helicopter market in order to better diversify its business.

It's still unclear whether the Pentagon will ask for across-the-board cuts of 5 to 8 percent to defense contracts, or whether agencies will have some discretion in making the reductions. The Budget Control Act of 2011 imposed $487 million in Defense Department cuts over the next decade.

Yamil Berard, 817-390-7705

Twitter: @yberard

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