Bell Helicopter laying off 140 employees

Posted Thursday, May. 02, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Bell Helicopter is laying off 140 employees at its Fort Worth plant in anticipation of reduced production of its V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft over the next several years.

The layoffs affect salaried employees as well as hourly workers, a Bell worker and others confirmed Thursday. That includes flight mechanics, tool crib attendants and bonding workers, one union official said.

“Staffing decisions like this are always difficult to make,” Bell Helicopter President and CEO John Garrison said in an email to employees Wednesday. “But these reductions are part of aligning our company to new business and market realities.”

The cuts will help the company adapt to future reductions in defense spending being contemplated by the Pentagon and Congress, Garrison said. Under Bell’s current contract with the government, which ends in 2015, the company is producing about 30 Ospreys a year. Another multiyear contract, which still needs congressional approval, would lower production to about 20 tilt-rotor aircraft a year, according to Richard Aboulafia, an aerospace industry analyst in Washington, D.C.

The uncertainty stems from budget sequestration, which calls for across-the-board cuts in defense budgets. They took effect in March under the Budget Control Act of 2012 and are being gradually introduced into defense budgets.

Bell, which produces the V-22 with Boeing, has delivered about 230 of the tilt-rotor aircraft to the military, including the Marines and Air Force.

The V-22, which takes off like a helicopter and flies like an airplane, is also part of a weapons package being offered to Israel, which would mark the first foreign sale of the craft.

The layoffs come roughly two weeks after Bell began contract talks with United Auto Workers Local 218. The talks, which kicked off April 18, are expected to continue until June 9, said former union President Gary Livingston. A new contract would affect about 2,500 hourly employees at the plant.

Bell employs about 7,000 workers in Tarrant County, spokesman Bill Schroeder said.

Livingston said workers were shocked to hear of the layoffs. Some are being called at home, he said.

“They let go of some people who have been there a long time,” Livingston said Thursday. “People are upset.

“It is going down. Supposedly there are going to be more today and tomorrow,” Livingston said. “It’s pretty touchy right now at Bell.”

Yamil Berard, 817-390-7705 Twitter: @yberard

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