Layoffs possible at Grumman plants in Md.

February 23, 1991|By Ted Shelsby

Two Grumman Corp. plants in Maryland employing about 700 workers will close unless the Pentagon reverses its position and frees money for continued production of the F-14 Tomcat fighter plane, Representative Helen Delich Bentley, R-Md.-2nd, said yesterday.

Mrs. Bentley's comments came in response to an announcement by Grumman's chairman and chief executive, Renso L. Caporali, that at least 4,100 workers could lose their jobs in coming weeks if the Navy halts production and "remanufacturing" of the F-14, a carrier-based jet that has been used to protect other planes during bombing runs in the Persian Gulf war. Remanufacturing entails taking an existing plane and upgrading the electronics throughout.

Grumman has a machining plant in Glen Arm in Baltimore County that produces structural parts for the company's planes. Another plant, in Salisbury, makes electrical harnesses used in aircraft. The Baltimore County plant has about 200 workers, and the Eastern Shore operation employs about 500.

Mrs. Bentley said she was not certain when the plants would close, but it was her understanding that it could be before the end of the year.

Grumman officials said that the vast majority of the layoffs would take place at the company's main aircraft manufacturing plant in Bethpage, N.Y. They declined to comment on the fate of individual operations.

In his letter to workers, Mr. Caporali said that federal fiscal year 1991 funds for the F-14D aircraft remanufacturing program have not been released by the government.

If funds aren't forthcoming, Mr. Caporali said, layoffs could begin soon after March 1.

Last year Congress appropriated $988 million for the F-14 program, and President Bush signed the funding bills into law in November. This included the acquisition of 12 remanufactured planes and kits -- the parts needed to upgrade the aircraft -- for 18 other F-14s.

This was on top of an order the previous year for 14 new F-14 models and six remanufactured planes.

Mr. Caporali said in this letter that the fiscal 1992 budget submitted to Congress Feb. 4 includes no funding for new or remanufactured F-14D's.

Miriam L. Reid, a spokeswoman for Grumman at its corporate headquarters in Bethpage said: "We don't know if this will be the death of Glen Arm, but the whole F-14 situation is a negative for Glen Arm."

Mr. Caporali's letter said he expects the Pentagon's decision to be challenged in Congress. "The F-14 is a superior plane, its performance in the gulf has been outstanding, and its planned successor -- the Naval Advanced Tactical Fighter -- wasn't included in the budget, either."

The Advanced Tactical Fighter, or A-12, was canceled by Defense Secretary Dick Cheney last month.

Mrs. Bentley said that she met with Pentagon officials yesterday to protest the F-14 decision. In addition to her concern about the jobs at the two Maryland plants, she said, she is concerned that if Grumman is forced out of the aircraft industry the Navy will have only one source of planes, McDonnell Douglas Corp. This could lessen competition, which the federal government has been trying to stimulate in recent years to reduce the costs of major military programs.

Grumman said the layoffs would also affect its operations at Stuart, Fla.; Milledgeville, Ga.; Fleetville, Pa.; and Houston.

The F-14 has been in production since the early 1970s. The company has produced approximately 700 of the sweep-wing jets.

In recent years Grumman has eliminated about 4,000 jobs, reducing its work force to about 26,100.

The Defense Department is considering replacing its fleet of F-14s with modern versions of the F-18, made by St. Louis-based McDonnell Douglas, until a new attack plane is developed in the next decade.

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