Letterkenny workers elated that depot is gaining 400 jobs

May 14, 2005|by RICHARD F. BELISLE

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Friday was Robert Willits' day off, but he stayed glued to C-SPAN until he heard the news. It was all good.

Not only will jobs at Letterkenny Army Depot, where Willits, 41, has worked as an electronics mechanic for two years, not be cut, realigned or the based closed altogether, the base is getting 400 new jobs.

News that the 17,000-acre Army base north of Chambersburg was going to survive another round of cuts spread among its 2,500 employees even before an official announcement was made at 9:30 a.m. by U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster R-Pa.


"My husband saw it on television and called me at 9:15 (a.m.) to tell me," said Debbie Witherspoon, president of the local National Federation of Federal Employees, which represents about 550 professional and white-collar workers at the depot.

Letterkenny survived the fifth and latest round of cuts announced Friday by the Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC), the nonpartisan committee charged with choosing the military bases to be affected by the government cutbacks.

In 1995, the depot lost about 800 jobs through BRAC.

Letterkenny repairs missile systems and retrofits vehicles for all branches of the service, including adding armor to Humvees used in the war in Iraq.

Col. William A. Guinn, depot commander, praised employees at a press conference Friday afternoon.

"Hundreds of Humvees have been rebuilt, with thousands more to do," he said

"It was wonderful news. Just wonderful. I feel like dancing," an elated Witherspoon said. "This has been weighing heavily on everybody's mind for the last year. As soon as my husband, Mike, called, I spread it around to everybody by e-mail. It's just such a relief."

Witherspoon said the average salary of workers in her union is $55,000 a year.

Jerry Mellott, president of the local National Federation of Federal Employees, which represents about 700 blue-collar workers at the depot, said there was elation at the news among union members Friday.

"There was plenty of applause when the commander announced it to employees at noon, but word had gotten around before that," he said.

Mellott said the shift in work and employment from other military installations will bode well for the area's economy.

"It will do the local economy good," he said.

Mellott, an electronics mechanic, has worked at Letterkenny since 1973. He said average hourly wages among union members is $18.

Guinn said at the press conference that it will be a few weeks before Letterkenny knows what jobs and who will be coming to the depot.

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