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Layoffs likely to hit island

The Boeing Company announced its second phase of layoffs Monday when it issued 2,900, 60-day pink slips. Almost 2,000 went to Puget Sound employees alone.

Though neither the company nor the union representing Boeing employees was able to say how many Whidbey Island residents will be losing their jobs, their are at least 268 machinists who call the island home who have reason to be concerned about their jobs.

Boeing spokesman Tom Ryan said this week a 50-percent reduction in production due to a post-Sept. 11 sag in airline travel is forcing the company's hand.

"We've been deeply affected by the 9-11 attacks," Ryan said. "Just look at the balance sheets of the airlines. They are our main source of business."

The recent batch of notices brings the number of layoffs in the Seattle area to about 12,000. Ryan said that by the middle of next year, 30,000 employees could be laid off within the commercial airplane division centered in our area.

Mark Blondin, district president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, said Thursday Boeing could be doing more to keep employees hired. The union is currently fighting to keep medical and training benefits funding solid during this production downturn, the second in three years.

"This is the biggest downturn we've seen in years," Blondin said. "This is very devastating to us."

Within the local IAMAW, more than 4,000 workers have been layed off in the past two months. About 3,200 were laid off on Oct. 12, while another 1,140 received pink slips in the latest round of cuts.

"We don't take it lightly around here," he said. "We are doing all we can to help our membership."

The union has sought granting for training benefits, has negotiated with Boeing to extend medical benefits for six months and has scheduled a job fair Dec. 12 with more than 50 prospective employers.

"People will fly again," Blondin said. "But in the interim we are fighting hard to get our workers some relief."

He said the Bush administration isn't making that effort any easier. With an economic stimulus package seeking to offer tax breaks to affected industries, Blondin said the government has really "lost its focus back there" by not directing funds to the unemployed workers.

Where Blondin said Boeing falls short, is with its outsourcing philosophy. He said the company has sent too many jobs overseas.

There are 24,000 active members in the union district. Blondin said the layoffs may not just affect Whidbey Island machinists, but administration employees and engineers as well.

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