About 500 employees at the Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. plant in north Palm Beach County will lose their jobs, the company said Tuesday, because of reductions in government demand for its aircraft.
The announcement that Lockheed Martin Corp. will shut down key operations in its facilities and lay off hundreds was not a shock, but it was a disappointment to county economic development officials.
And it was significant setback for efforts to grow a high-paying cluster of high-skilled jobs.
“We worked very hard to build this cluster,” said Kelly Smallridge, president of the Business Development Board. “It’s one of the largest targeted industries in the county but at least we have some great opportunities to place those people in companies who have been having a very hard time finding a skilled workforce.”
The average salary for that career field is about $80,000, which is $30,000 more than the average salary in Palm Beach County, Smallridge said.
Smallridge, County Mayor Melissa McKinlay and Palm Beach County Commissioner Hal Valeche said they are hopeful the employees losing their positions will quickly find other jobs with Lockheed and Pratt & Whitney. Still, Valeche said, he is disappointed.
“It’s a shame,” he said.
The company said it is closing the decade-old Florida Assembly and Flight Operations property — which employs about 500 people — and will be out by the end of the year. However, the Development Flight Center will continue to operate on the campus, according to a statement from Lockheed Martin spokesman Paul Jackson, Lockheed Martin spokesman. The flight center employs about 600 individuals.
“Sikorsky informed employees today of a decision to consolidate operations to adjust to lower US Government aircraft demand, eliminate the resulting excess capacity, and protect our ability to compete by reducing cost,” the statement said.
Jackson said there are four major programs at the site west of Jupiter that are being affected:
- The contract for the CH-53K aircraft for the Marines has already shifted to Maryland for flight testing;
- The contract for building Black Hawk helicopters for the Army calls for a lower number of aircraft than the previous contract, decreasing work;
- The contracts for Black Hawks for international customers are nearly complete;
- A program that was building helicopters for the Canadian government is being moved to facilities in Alabama and Pennsylvania.
“All that work has just been depleted. It’s just gone away,” Jackson said.
Of the 500 employees, those with salaries will receive a severance package based on Lockheed Martin policy. Hourly employees will receive a package negotiated by their union. The cuts will be made through the remainder of the year.
The union, Teamsters Local 1150, has scheduled a membership meeting for Aug. 11 to update the members on the situation, said Rocco Calo, the union’s secretary and treasurer.
“We are currently analyzing the decision announced today by Sikorsky and will explore all avenues legally, politically and through the collective bargaining process to minimize negative impacts to our members,” he said.
The BDB’s Smallridge said when layoffs at Sikorsky were first discussed a few months ago she received calls from companies interested in hiring those employees because of their technical skills.
Smallridge said the BDB will work with CareerSource to find a new job for those interested in staying in Palm Beach County.
She also has high hopes that the facility Sikorsky is leaving won’t be difficult to fill because of its prime location, next to Pratt & Whitney and Aerojet Rocketdyne.
Separate from the FAFO jobs, about 150 salaried employees will be laid off across Sikorsky properties — not only in Florida — through the rest of the year.
Jackson said the company has not yet been determined how many of those will be cut locally. Employees were offered a separation package in June but not enough employees volunteered to leave, he said. Those employees will be given severance packages based on Lockheed Martin policy.
The move comes just three years after Lockheed Martin, one the world’s biggest defense contractors, bought the Sikorsky military helicopter unit from United Technologies for $9 billion. The sale came as the Palm Beach County Commission readied approval of a $146,775 jobs incentive package for Sikorsky.
In that package, the company was required to create 14 jobs over three years and to maintain those jobs for an additional three years. The company met those goals but didn’t provide documentation that they met requirements for job advertisements, Sherry Howard, deputy director of the county’s department of housing and economic sustainability said in an email to county commissioners Tuesday.
Sikorsky has agreed to refund all incentives provided so far from the county totaling $57,908, Howard wrote.
Palm Beach County business and government officials said at the time of the sale they were optimistic that ownership by Lockheed Martin would generate more business at Sikorsky’s campus.