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Union goes to bat for Rohr

December 04, 1998|By KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI

Although officials at BFGoodrich plan to close the former Rohr Inc. aircraft parts plant in Hagerstown late next year, employees and union officials aren't giving up on the facility.

Doug Stone, president of Amalgamated Union Local No. 842, said the union was successful in convincing the plant's owners to keep the plant open before, and can do it again.

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"We will try to convince the company this facility has the most profitability, high-quality employees and is the cheapest to run they have," he said.

BFGoodrich President Marshall Larsen said Wednesday that the company was streamlining and restructuring its Aerostructures Group. The Richfield, Ohio-based company acquired Aerostructures in a merger with Rohr in December 1997.

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BFGoodrich makes aircraft equipment and specialty chemicals. Aerostructures builds aircraft engine housings.

The Hagerstown plant, known locally as Rohr, is one of four Aerostructures Group plants the company will close, eliminating 775 jobs.

At its peak in 1990-91, the Hagerstown plant employed 620 people and reported $621.8 million in sales. It now has 199 workers.

In December 1992, Rohr officials said they were considering closing the Hagerstown plant to consolidate costs because the industry had taken a downturn. They later tried to sell the Showalter Road plant, which manufactures engine casings for commercial jets.

It was then that the union and employees rallied and proved to Rohr officials that keeping the plant open was necessary, Stone said.

Instead of being closed, the Hagerstown plant became the company's center for metal bonding.

"We will try to do the same thing with BFGoodrich," he said. "On paper, closing might seem like a good idea, but we want to convince them that it really isn't," he said.

Stone said he hopes talks with the company will have one of the following outcomes.

- The union will be successful, and the company will stay open.

- BFGoodrich will decide to sell to another company, which will retain all or most of Rohr's employees as a package deal.

- BFGoodrich will decide to close but will provide the employees with a closure agreement that is satisfactory to union officials.

"We want a good closure agreement that protects the employees," Stone said. "We'll work at laying the groundwork for that now. We want to put our best foot forward in developing strategies and get with employees to inform them of what's going on."

He said slowdowns in orders by Boeing and other aircraft companies have continued to affect the industry.

"It (Hagerstown) may be the best bonding facility Rohr has, but that's nothing if you have no customers," he said.

Stone said no date has been set for the union to meet with BFGoodrich officials.

Officials from BFGoodrich did not return telephone messages.

Rohr Plant Manager Philip Vacca refused to comment on the union's plans.

Stone said he spoke with the company's employees on Wednesday after they were informed the plant would be closed in late 1999.

He said the workers were upset at getting the news just three weeks before Christmas.

Stone praised the employees' loyalty and work ethic.

Many of the employees have been with the company for 54 years, back when the plant was the Composite Bonding Center division of Fairchild Industries, Stone said.

"We have excellent employees. Their work is very specialized. Not just anybody can do it," Stone said.

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