April 11, 2013

General Dynamics in Saco to lay off 110 workers

Demand for the heavy weapons made there has fallen as the U.S. scales back forces in two wars.

By Jessica Hall jhall@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

SACO –  General Dynamics said Thursday that it plans to lay off 110 employees in Saco, about one-third of its work force, because of reduced demand for heavy machine guns as the U.S. military downsizes operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

click image to enlarge

An employee polishes the chamber of a machine gun barrel at the General Dynamics Armament and Technical Products Operation in Saco in this 2007 photo.

Press Herald file photo

The company warned workers that they would be laid off in the period from June 14 to July 1. The group includes salaried and hourly-wage employees who were involved in the production of heavy machine guns and auto-grenade launchers.

"We regret the impact the layoffs will have on the Saco work force," said Karl Johnson, a spokesman for General Dynamics' Armament and Technical Products unit. "This is the best means to protect the remainder of our work force and maintain our cost competitiveness on existing programs and future opportunities."

No other General Dynamics Armament and Technical Products facilities will lay off workers. The unit employs nearly 2,700 nationally.

The facility in Saco, which laid off 30 workers last fall, makes large, heavy weapons that are operated by two or more people.

The average wage for union workers at the plant is about $20 an hour, said Ethan Snow, spokesman for the New England Joint Board for Unite Here, the union representing most of the workers. The company would not comment on wages.

No additional layoffs are expected at the plant in Saco, though General Dynamics said it continuously evaluates its business. Earlier this year, the plant was awarded a $14.3 million contract extension for specialized machine-gun barrel kits being made for the Army.

In addition to the 110 employees to be laid off, 15 will be offered voluntary separation packages, Johnson said. After all the cuts, 215 workers will remain.

"Anytime a community loses jobs, it hurts. Our hearts and feelings go out to those who lost their jobs," said Saco Mayor Mark Johnston. "We are entering a new phase in American history. There's less need for armament."

Johnston said General Dynamics, Saco's largest employer, knew for several months that it would have to cut jobs. Snow said the workers had heard rumors about pending cuts for months.

"The concern is that in this economic light -- with 110 jobs being lost -- where are these people going to go? These are highly skilled workers doing a very specific task," said state Rep. Justin Chenette, D-Saco. "It's good that there will be job counselors brought in to help, but the jobs have to be there for them to find."

The union plans to help laid-off workers file for unemployment.

"It's really tough for a lot of these workers to find comparable work," Snow said. "A lot of these workers have been there for decades."

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, plans to "continue to work with the company as they explore future opportunities that might allow them to hire back some of those employees," said her spokesman, Willy Ritch. "In the meantime, she knows the Maine Department of Labor will be moving quickly to help laid-off workers get the benefits they need and look for new work."

Pingree's husband, S. Donald Sussman, is the majority share owner of MaineToday Media Inc., which publishes the Portland Press Herald.

U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King of Maine issued a joint statement saying, "We are obviously saddened by this announcement, as it is an unwelcome blow to our state's economy and the families who are already struggling to make ends meet. ... Our offices stand ready to help those impacted by layoffs in any way we can."

In January, the Saco City Council voted to forgive General Dynamics as much as $100,000 in property taxes over the next six years in a tax increment financing package that would allow the company to move forward with an expansion plan.

At the time, General Dynamics planned to build a 3,000-square-foot addition for an estimated $750,000. The expansion was expected to add a product line and support at least 12 jobs.

General Dynamics did not return calls Thursday regarding the TIF or the status of the expansion.

Jessica Hall can be contacted at 791-6316 or at:

jhall@pressherald.com

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