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Union Says Pratt & Whitney Seeking Buyouts

Jet engine maker seeking unspecified number of workers to accept voluntary retirement packages as it cuts its work force to adapt to troubles in the airline industry.

EAST HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) -- Jet engine maker Pratt & Whitney is seeking an unspecified number of workers to accept voluntary retirement packages as the company cuts its work force to adapt to troubles in the airline industry.

Company spokeswoman Jennifer Whitlow on Wednesday would not say how many workers will be affected.

James Parent, a representative of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, said Pratt & Whitney informed the union Monday that it will ask 71 hourly workers to take buyouts. The company also said it will ask salaried workers to take buyouts, he said.

The East Hartford-based company cited reduced orders for airline engine spare parts and a delay in Airbus engine orders, Parent said.

Whitlow said the downturn in the economy and fuel costs were reasons why the company is paring its work force.

"Our customers are under enormous pressure to reduce costs. We must remain competitive and deliver the best value to them," she said.

Parent said the union will try to eliminate the need for buyouts by determining whether work by vendors and subcontractors can be done by Pratt & Whitney employees.

Pratt & Whitney, a subsidiary of United Technologies Corp., is required by a contract it signed with the machinists to pay workers who accept voluntary retirement one week's pay for each year worked, a $5,000 lump sum and one year of health, dental and life insurance.

Parent said 1,600 hourly workers are eligible for the buyouts. To be eligible, workers must be at least 55. The union represents about 4,100 workers, he said.

Pratt & Whitney posted $496 million in profit last year, up 21 percent from 2006.

Analyst Paul Nisbet of JSA Research in Newport, R.I., said airlines are cutting costs by parking old, inefficient planes rather than spending money for spare parts. For Pratt & Whitney, spare parts represent between 30 percent and 40 percent of its profits, he said.

In addition, Nisbet said Pratt & Whitney lost an opportunity to build as many as 75 engines a year at $10 million apiece for Boeing Co. when the Air Force awarded an aerial refueling tanker contract to a team that included Northrop Grumman Corp.

The Government Accountability Office has listed "significant errors" in a report on the award and the Air Force plans to rebid the contract.

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