Bell Helicopter is laying off 140 employees at its Fort Worth plant to prepare for an anticipated reduction in production of its V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft over the next several years.
The layoffs affect salaried employees as well as hourly workers, a Bell worker and others confirmed today. That includes flight mechanics, tool crib attendants and bonding workers, one union official said.
“Staffing decisions like this are always difficult to make,’’ Bell Helicopter President and CEO John Garrison said in an email to employees on Wednesday. “But these reductions are part of aligning our company to new business and market realities.”
The cuts will help the company adapt to future cuts in defense spending being contemplated by the Pentagon and Congress, Garrison said. Under Bell’s current multi-year contract with the government, which ends in 2015, the company is producing about 30 Osprey aircraft a year. Another multi-year contract, which still needs congressional approval, would lower production to about 20 tilt-rotor aircraft a year, according to Richard Aboulafia, an aerospace industry analyst in Washington, D.C.
The uncertainty stems from budget sequestration, which calls for across-the-board spending cuts to defense budgets. The cuts went into effect in March under the Budget Control Act of 2012 and are being gradually introduced into defense budgets.
The layoffs come roughly two weeks after Bell began contract talks with United Auto Workers Local 218. The talks, which kicked off on April 18, are expected to continue until June 9, said former union president Gary Livingston. A new contract would affect about 2,500 hourly employees at the plant.
Bell employs about 7,000 workers in Tarrant County, Bell spokesman Bill Schroeder said.
Livingston said workers were shocked to hear of the layoffs. Some are being called at home, he said.
“They let go of some people who have been there a long time,’’ Livington said on Thursday. “People are upset.
“It is going down. Supposedly there are going to be more today and tomorrow,’’ Livingston said. “It’s pretty touchy right now at Bell.”