Without a Parachute : Hughes Aircraft Sponsors Job Fair for Its Workers Left in the Layoff Lurch

Times Staff Writer

When Elizabeth Quay was hired by Hughes Aircraft in 1980, the Los Angeles-based aerospace company was just beginning to enjoy the benefits of a defense spending surge that added thousands of workers to the company's Southern California payroll during the next five years.

But the good times did not last. On Oct. 13, Quay will be laid off from her job as a division administrator for Hughes in El Segundo. Her job is one of 6,000 that Hughes plans to eliminate by the end of the year in response to defense budget cutbacks.

"I'm surprised this didn't happen sooner," said Quay, who was one of thousands of Hughes employees who jammed a company-sponsored job fair at a hotel near Los Angeles International Airport on Monday. "In many ways, aerospace had been a very inflated industry the past several years, with a lot of make-work jobs."

The two-day job fair, which concludes today, is part of Hughes' program to help workers being laid off or taking early retirement to land jobs with other employers.

"We've never done a job fair like this in the history of Hughes," said Fred Rodriguez, Hughes' manager of corporate employment programs. "We've never had such a large number of people going out all at once."

Hughes has said most of the job cuts will occur at its operations in Southern California, where more than 80% of its 74,000 workers are located. Hughes is the largest private employer in Orange County, with more than 13,000 employees at five locations.

Since Hughes announced the job cuts in late May, recruiters from companies throughout the country have been flooding the contractor with inquiries about available workers, Hughes officials said.

On Monday, Hughes employees packed nearby parking garages and crowded the hotel lobby and the aisles around company exhibits. Nearly every major aerospace and defense firm sent recruiters, including some of Hughes' biggest rivals: Lockheed, McDonnell Douglas, General Dynamics and Northrup. Hughes' parent company, General Motors Corp., sent representatives from its automobile and electronics divisions.

Some of the other companies represented at the job fair offered career opportunities decidedly different from work at Hughes. Walt Disney Imagineering in Glendale was looking for engineers to help design theme parks; company recruiters passed out pencils shaped like Mickey Mouse ears.

Representatives of the Superconducting Super Collider--a 52-mile, underground particle accelerator being built near Dallas--scouted for engineers, computer scientists and physicists.

"A lot of the technicians we want can be found in the California area," said Gary Damiano, a staffing manager for the Dallas lab. "We're telling people that Dallas is an attractive area where people can buy a house for one-third the price they can in Southern California."

Patricia Harrington, an administrative secretary for Hughes in Long Beach, said she was disappointed at the lack of non-technical positions being offered at the job fair. Harrington has not received a layoff notice from Hughes but fears that her job is endangered because her boss is retiring soon.

"I'm just looking around to see what is out there," Harrington said.

Hughes said in late May that the large layoffs it would make by the end of this year would permit it to become more competitive as it faces a decline in defense contracts.

Hughes is trying to make most of the job cuts through attrition and early retirement, with the rest coming from involuntary layoffs.

Since last June, Hughes has laid off 400 workers and accepted 400 voluntary resignations.

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