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600 to Lose Their Jobs as Ford Aerospace Starts Sgt. York Cuts

Times Staff Writer

Ford Aerospace & Communications Corp. said Wednesday that 600 of the 1,900 Orange County employees assigned to the now-canceled Sgt. York program will be laid off Friday in the first of a series of staff cuts expected to follow Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger’s decision last week to halt production of the anti-aircraft gun.

The first round of layoffs is hitting low-level production workers at the company’s assembly plants in Newport Beach and Irvine and at its test site in San Juan Capistrano. A company spokesman said discussions are proceeding on what to do with the remaining 1,300 employees assigned to the defunct program and an announcement may be made next week.

The company has said it hopes to absorb some of the displaced Sgt. York employees in its 3,200-worker aeronutronics division in Newport Beach. It has also promised to help employees find jobs with aerospace companies throughout Southern California.

Job Fair Saturday

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The first of those job-finding efforts will be an employment fair Saturday at the company’s Newport Beach headquarters. Approximately two dozen companies, including Lockheed, TRW, Litton, Northrop and Magnavox, are expected to attend, according to a Ford spokesman.

However, Orange County labor analysts have not been optimistic about the opportunities awaiting the laid-off Ford workers.

Analysts said the aerospace companies currently hiring engineers may not need the type of engineers Ford hired for the Sgt. York program. And production and assembly line workers are expected to encounter a depressed market for their skills because of the continuing sales slump in the computer industry that has already caused hundreds of layoffs throughout Southern California.

McDonnell Douglas Corp.'s Information Systems Group based in Newport Beach, for instance, confirmed Wednesday that it cut a total of 110 workers at three of its Orange County plants late last month as a result of stagnant computer sales.

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575 Jobs Lost Since July

The layoffs were described by a company spokesman as part of a “mid-course adjustment” taken throughout the company’s nationwide operations. Since July, the spokesman said 575 jobs have been axed at company computer and communication product plants throughout the nation. The Orange County units affected by the layoffs were the McDonnell Douglas Computer Systems Co., which makes computers; the McDonnell Douglas Business and Network Systems Co., which sells computers, and the McDonnell Douglas Field Service Co., which repairs and services computers. All three units were created following McDonnell Douglas’ purchase of Microdata.

Wednesday’s layoff notices at Ford were handed out just nine days after Weinberger stunned company officials by immediately stopping work on the tank-mounted gun after the Army had already spent $1.8 billion on the program.

Ford executives had privately expected Weinberger to kill a potential order for 117 more of the oft-criticized gun. But they admitted last week that they were caught off-guard by Weinberger’s decision to stop the program in mid-production and to refuse to accept the remaining 81 systems from its initial order of 146.

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As a result, a Ford spokesman said the company has yet to figure out all the details involved in stopping the program.

For example, he said the company hasn’t decided how to dispose of the parts it has on hand for the remaining 81 systems.

“We’re awaiting further word from the Army,” he said. “We have gotten no direction from them on what to do with the parts, and, frankly, we don’t know what we’re going to do with a lot of things involved in this.”

An Army spokesman said that as far as the Pentagon is concerned, parts for the undelivered systems belong to Ford and that the company can do whatever it chooses with them. Maj. Philip Soucy said the Army intends to dismantle the 65 systems it has already received and store those parts that it can use in other weapon systems. Unusable parts, he said, would be consigned to an Army surplus sale.

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The Ford spokesman said the company would attempt to find other uses for the plants and production equipment, which Ford spent $50 million to install for the Sgt. York program. If the company has no use for them, he said, it would attempt to sell the surplus. He said the question of a write-down or write-off of the plants and equipment has not yet been considered.


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