TAUNTON, Mass.—Esterline Technologies Corp.'s Haskon Aerospace unit is scheduled to close by the end of 2010, but negotiators still are trying to reach a severance agreement for hourly workers at the site.
The shutdown of the 96,000-sq.-ft. plant, announced late last year, will affect about 100 employees. The hourly work force is represented by Local 204 of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America, and the UE and company still are negotiating severance language, said James Sweeney, chief operating officer of Kirkhill-TA Co. Haskon is a division of Brea, Calif.-based Kirkhill-TA.
The plan as of now is to phase out production at the site—where Haskon produces silicone rubber aircraft seals—and make reductions over the course of the year, particularly over the next six months, he said.
Bellevue, Wash.-based Esterline gave the work force in Taunton as much advance notice as possible to give them an opportunity to look for other job opportunities and give people time to examine their finances, Sweeney said. The Christmas season was approaching, and company officials didn't want anyone to buy something expensive and have to make payments after finding out about the closure, he said.
The firm also is working with state and local authorities to try to connect workers with transition programs, Sweeney said.
The local workers currently are covered by a three-year contract ratified in August 2008. About 40 percent of the Local 204 members have 35 years of experience or more, said Peter Knowlton, president of the UE's Northeast region.
Esterline is shutting down the Haskon operation because of overcapacity and reduced demand in the aircraft seals business, Sweeney said, adding that customers are pushing their supply bases to reduce the numbers of outlets they deal with.
“It's a tough market,” he said.
The company has another facility in Brea which produces aircraft seals and is larger, newer and includes the bulk of the supporting functions for the business, including engineering and research and development.
The Taunton plant is a leased turn-of-the-century—19th to 20th century—building, one that needed significant investment to become satisfactory to serve as the company's primary aircraft seals facility, Sweeney said.
“If we had to pick a plant to close, this decision made sense,” he said.
Esterline plans on sending tooling and selected equipment to Brea from Taunton as the phase-out progresses, and will auction off anything not being moved west.
The UE wants to take advantage of the seasoned membership and keep the operation running, Knowlton said. The union has hired a financial consultant in hopes of securing a way to buy unwanted equipment or partner with a company to make parts at the site, either aircraft seals or something else, he said.
The Haskon facility has operated under the Esterline umbrella for eight years. Esterline purchased Burke Industries Inc.'s Engineered Polymers Group, which included the Haskon business, in 2002; Burke had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection the year before.
Other owners of the facility included BTR Dunlop and General Electric Co., which operated a plastics division there, at one time employing more than 800 workers, according to local reports. The plant also once housed a railroad car repair operation, Sweeney said.
Rubber products manufactured there under the Haskon brand include silicone aerodynamic seals, firewall seals, entry and hatch seals, and inflatable seals. Esterline's largest customer in the aircraft seal business is Boeing Co., but Esterline serves manufacturers across the board in the market, Sweeney said.