Labor contract to idle 90 jobs in Tullahoma

FILE - In this Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2016 file photo, An engine and part of a wing from the 100th 787 Dreamliner to be built at Boeing of South Carolina's North Charleston, S.C., facility are seen outside the plant. The morning round of voting has concluded Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017, among South Carolina Boeing workers considering if they want representation by a union. Nearly 3,000 production workers are eligible to vote in the election to determine if they'll be represented by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. (Brad Nettles/The Post and Courier via AP, File)

A new labor contract approved in January will idle as many as 90 workers at United Technologies Corp. Aerospace Systems' manufacturing plant in Tullahoma, Tenn., where landing gear is produced for Boeing's 777 airliner.

The move came after United Technologies and the United Steelworkers Local 6817 accepted a four-year labor contract on Jan. 29, officials said.

"As part of the negotiation with union representatives, UTC Aerospace Systems indicated that it is considering workforce reductions at its Landing Systems facility in Tullahoma, Tenn., which may impact approximately 90 workers in the first half of this year," UTC Aerospace spokeswoman Melissa Noebes said via email this week.

"The workforce reductions are directly tied to declining manufacturing volumes, resulting from program wind-down and completed contracts, as well as the loss of a major contract," Noebes said. "The manufacturing demand simply isn't there."

UTC director of industrial relations Tom Nemec said the company and the union "achieved a fair agreement that reflects the mutual needs of the two parties," Noebes said.

"We worked closely with union officials to develop a package that will help ease the burden on our employees and their families," he said. "We will start with a voluntary severance program and support all of our impacted employees with extended benefits, plus education and outplacement support."

The plant in Tullahoma also produces landing systems for other "older, more mature commercial and military aircraft programs," according to Noebes. Some of those programs are "entering an expected wind-down phase in demand," she said.

Noebes didn't mention any competitors by name but a Canadian company beat United Technologies out of the 777 landing gear contract a few years ago.

Longueuil, Quebec, company Héroux-Devtek won the contract away from United Technologies in 2013 to build the landing gear for both of Boeing's twin jets 777 and the new 777X, according to a July 2016 report in the Seattle Times in Washington state where Boeing's 777s are built.

The Canadian company previously made only parts for landing gears and complete landing gears for military and business jets. Héroux-Devtek bid on the work at a time when Boeing's then-Chief Executive Jim McNerny told suppliers to lower prices or they would be put on a "no-fly" list. United Technologies didn't drop prices, so it fell out of the running, the Seattle Times reported.

Another United Technologies facility in Middle Tennessee also is being shuttered this spring, adding to the jobs idled in the region.

In January, a WARN letter - required by the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act - was filed notifying of the permanent shuttering of one of United Technologies warehousing facilities on Weakley Lane in Smyrna, Tenn., according to the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development. The closure announced Jan. 10 will displace 64 workers when the facility closed sometime between mid-March and March 31.

A WARN notice had not yet been filed with the state on Wednesday in connection with jobs cut in Tullahoma, according to a list on the Department of Labor and Workforce website.

The WARN act protects workers, their families and communities by requiring employers to provide notice 60 days in advance of plant closings, mass layoffs or the sale of a business.

Contact staff writer Ben Benton at or 423-757-6569.