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537 face layoffs as Boeing winds down C-17 cargo plane production

The Boeing C-17 plant in Long Beach employed 5,000 people, but production of the cargo plane is winding down.
The Boeing C-17 plant in Long Beach employed 5,000 people, but production of the cargo plane is winding down.
Brian Watt/KPCC

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Some 537 workers at Boeing facilities in Long Beach, Huntington Beach and El Segundo will be laid off as the aerospace company winds down production of the C-17 Globemaster for the U.S. government.

Long Beach has borne the heaviest load. The 2,200 Californians who worked on the cargo plane have known since September of last year that production would end some time next year.  Last April, Boeing announced it would likely end a few months earlier than planned

Since then, layoffs have been steady in Long Beach. Some 227 Boeing jobs ended on Nov. 21, and one of them belonged to structure mechanic George Burden, who helped build the floors of the C-17 planes.

"I had 36 years and 22 days [on the job]," Burden told KPCC.  "There's a lot of sadness, a lot of unhappy people." Burden is also Financial Secretary of United Aerospace Workers Union Local 148, which once represented roughly 2,000 workers on the C-17 assembly line. 

At age 65, Burden is now retired from Boeing but says he would take another job within the company and even relocate for it. But he says he and many of his colleagues are getting the cold shoulder from the company. 

"We don't understand when they're hiring up in Seattle, why they don't hire people who are good mechanics," Burden said. "I think most people if they had an offer would relocate." 

In a statement, a Boeing spokeswoman said:

As is prudent in any successful company in a dynamic industry and marketplace, Boeing continually reviews our staffing plans and adjusts according to a variety of factors. Most often the adjustments are related to changes in skills needed as business requirements change. ... Boeing carefully links its employment levels to business requirements. These are being driven by the difficult business and economic conditions that all companies have been experiencing.  

At the height of the Cold War, Southern California was an important hub in the aerospace industry. Fifteen of the 25 largest aerospace companies in the United States were located here, and one of out every 10 aerospace jobs in the U.S. was based in Los Angeles County, according to a 2012 report by the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation.

But that same report shows that, between 1990 and 2010, aerospace employment in the region fell by two-thirds. 

Still, some economists and manufacturing analysts believe Southern California maintains an advantage in aerospace. Many of the manual and factory line jobs have gone, but aerospace jobs requiring greater technological and engineering skills remain. 

The newly retired George Burden has seen just that. "They keep talking about all these aerospace jobs that are coming here but they’re all engineers and things like that," he said. "There’s not a lot of structure jobs, you know, middle class."