Westinghouse's woes

October 28, 1992

No sooner did word arrive that Coca-Cola was bringing 700 jobs to the state than two Coca-Colas left -- or the equivalent of them, at least.

The recent announcement that Westinghouse Electric Corp. is laying off 12 percent of its 12,000-strong work force in Maryland -- notices are to go out this week -- sent waves of fear and anxiety reverberating across this region.

The layoffs may affect the company's units in Linthicum, where 9,500 people work; Hunt Valley (1,800); Annapolis (750); Sykesville (300) and Columbia (80).

You didn't even have to work at Westinghouse, the state's largest manufacturing employer, to shiver from the news' chill. In fact, the downsizing may affect many who never worked for the firm. Michael S. Lofton, economic development director for Anne Arundel County, estimates the multiplier effect of the layoffs could ultimately take down twice that many jobs in businesses that serve the company or its employees.

Since the late 1980s, the company has been working to remake itself from primarily a Department of Defense supplier to a 50-50 split between government and commercial work by 1995. The company is now into everything from air traffic control systems to burglar alarms to "smart" cash registers that track inventory for restaurants and hotels.

Unfortunately, the recession dragged down that fledgling side of the business while losses in defense work attacked the traditional mission.

Most startling about the 1,400 layoffs is that they are the third round of major surgery for Westinghouse. About 1,200 employees were laid off in February 1991 and 1,300 more last December. Those 3,900 people alone would comprise the 14th or 15th largest company in Maryland.

Ross Perot has spent a considerable amount of time this campaign lamenting the bleak prospects for bright college graduates seeking jobs, and while that's terrible, newly minted collegians don't have the financial and family obligations built up by people in their 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s. To Westinghouse's credit, it has sought to place laid-off workers with other firms. But the reality is that it's very hard to re-create the types of positions that Westinghouse provided.

We hope the ex-Westinghouse employees can find other jobs quickly. Their uncertain futures parallel those of a company, and a region, in the midst of a metamorphosis.

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