Spirit AeroSystems lays off 360 workers

Spirit AeroSystems sign in Wichita.
Spirit AeroSystems sign in Wichita. The Wichita Eagle

Spirit AeroSystems laid off about 360 salaried support and management employees in Wichita and Oklahoma on Thursday, part of its efforts to cut costs, the company said.

“Today's action is a strategic move to make the company more competitive in a cost-sensitive environment, and results from an ongoing workforce assessment designed to reduce overhead costs, increase efficiency and drive improved performance,” the company said in a statement.

About 200 of the laid-off employees are engineers and professional and technical workers in Wichita represented by the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace.

It’s unknown how many other Wichita workers who aren’t SPEEA-represented were affected. The company said it would not provide a breakout of figures for the workers affected in Wichita and Tulsa.

Before Thursday’s announcement, Spirit employed 11,000 in Wichita and about 2,500 in Tulsa. SPEEA represents about 3,200 Spirit employees in two units in Wichita.

The cuts did not affect the hourly work force, Spirit said.

“It’s no rumor anymore,” B.J. Moore, contract administrator with SPEEA, said about the layoffs. SPEEA officials had said Wednesday that they were bracing for layoffs Thursday.

Moore was going through a list of the names of affected employees Thursday morning.

“It’s not any one particular program area,” Moore said, adding that the list of affected employees crosses a variety of job skills. But there are more separations in the professional and technical staff than in the engineering ranks. “There’s a lot of veteran employees here.”

Some had more than 30 years of service, he said.

About 125 Spirit employees gathered late Thursday afternoon to attend a meeting by SPEEA for those who were laid off.

At the meeting, SPEEA officials talked about the workers’ contractual rights, the grievance process and gave information about filing for unemployment, COBRA, the severance package and other issues.

Some workers said they were surprised by the layoffs. Others said they saw it coming.

Roger Sellers, 63, a Spirit chemical engineer, had been with Spirit and Boeing before that for a total of 35 years.

“They were targeting the older guys to replace us with the younger workers,” Sellers said. “I figured this was going to happen.”

Unfortunately, he said, “they’re laying off too much of their knowledge and then they’re not going to be able to get the job done.”

Sellers said he was one of the lucky ones. He retired from Boeing a few years ago.

“I’ve had a good career,” he said.

Spirit said the action is part of an ongoing process to align its work force with the needs of its customers and programs and improve company performance.

“Decisions affecting our workforce are made based on program needs and our ability to bring more value to our aerospace design/build capabilities,” it said in a statement.

The employees were given a two-week layoff notice with two weeks pay, then being walked out the door after morning meetings, Moore said. They also were offered a severance package.

The company said it was offering a package that included severance benefits and career transition services. It declined to release the details of the benefits.

“People are being let go without any notification or justification of why,” Moore said. “It’s hard to figure out why.”

The layoffs come as Spirit is raising production on 737 and 787 programs because of increased demand. It said it has a backlog of work valued at about $36 billion.

The company also took a hefty $590 million charge in October 2012 on several key programs under development on what one analyst described as “underpriced contracts.”

The size of the charge took analysts by surprise.

Spirit also has a new person in charge. In April, Larry Lawson, a former senior executive at defense contractor Lockheed Martin, took over as CEO, succeeding Jeff Turner, a Boeing veteran who had been Spirit’s CEO since it was founded in 2005.

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