Navy contract loss imperils 500 jobs at Westinghouse Maryland division seeks reversal of cancellation


An additional 500 Westinghouse Electric Corp. workers in Maryland are likely to lose their jobs in coming weeks -- the result of the loss of a major electronic warfare contract.

The company said the layoffs, which are scheduled to begin a week from today, could be avoided if the Defense Department alters or reverses its December decision to cancel production of the Airborne Self-Protection Jammer system within the next week. But a company spokesman conceded that winning such a reversal would be difficult.

Richard A. Linder, president of the local Westinghouse unit, informed workers of the pending layoffs in a bulletin issued yesterday.

"While we continue to press for government action, unless we see favorable results by January 29th, we will be unable to avoid a reduction in force of up to 500 Electronic Systems employees," Mr. Linder said.

Most cuts would come from the company's Baltimore-Washington International Airport complex, said spokesman Jack Martin. Some jobs would also be eliminated at its Hunt Valley site.

"We're working closely with the Maryland congressional delegation in seeking their support for a reversal," Mr. Martin said. He said that Westinghouse was hopeful of having the Pentagon change its mind, "but the reality is that it will be difficult to do."

The layoffs would be the fourth major reduction in Westinghouse's Maryland work force since February 1991. Since then, Westinghouse has eliminated nearly 4,000 jobs, reducing the payroll to about 10,500. In the mid-1980s, Westinghouse employed about 18,000 workers in Maryland.

Workers learned of the likely layoffs the day after Westinghouse reported a $1.3 billion loss for last year. The company attributed much of the loss to its financial services unit. It noted, however, that earnings declined, and revenues were down substantially, at the local operations last year. The company did not supply figures for the local unit.

In his bulletin, Mr. Linder said the company would also be seeking to have the cancellation modified to a "stop work" order. Mr. Martin said that such a change "would keep the program alive while an assessment was made on its future."

The Navy announced its decision to cancel the multibillion-dollar system, commonly referred to as ASPJ, in mid-December, following months of speculation. The ASPJ was being developed to protect F-14 and F-18 fighter planes from ground-launched, radar-homing missiles by confusing enemy radar signals. Westinghouse shared the production with ITT Defense Inc. of Arlington, Va.

While details of the equipment's performance remain classified, the Navy has said that the system never passed flight tests.

In his message to workers, Mr. Linder says: "We are extremely disappointed at having to take this action since, just last fall, the Navy itself concluded that the system had performed flawlessly during operational tests and that ASPJ met all of the performance requirements of the contract."

Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, Democrat from the 3rd District, said Maryland's House delegation would be aggressive in its pursuit of a reversal. "We think Westinghouse is right on the merits of its argument," he said.

Mr. Cardin noted that the Pentagon has already invested $1.5 billion in the system and that some military officials have questions about how the ASPJ tests were performed.

John Steele, a spokesman for Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, said she had joined with fellow Maryland Democrat Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes in writing a letter to former Defense Secretary Richard Cheney before Christmas urging him to change his decision from a termination to a stop-work order. Mr. Steele said a similar letter was being sent to President Clinton's defense secretary, Les Aspin.

The early indications were that the Clinton administration would cut defense spending even more than President Bush proposed. Defense News, a defense industry publication, reported this week that Mr. Clinton plans to cut $60 billion from the six-year defense spending plan proposed by then-President Bush.

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