March 20, 2009 in Business

Itronix benefits may be enhanced

Layoffs could qualify staff for extra help
By The Spokesman-Review
 

General Dynamics Corp. has told its Spokane Itronix workers the company is seeking enhanced benefits for those losing their jobs when the plant shuts later this year.

By June 1 the entire Spokane Valley technology company will close its doors, affecting 380 workers. As it streamlines production costs, General Dynamics is consolidating the Itronix operation with another plant in Sunrise, Fla. The Spokane operation is the main site for the design and manufacture of ultra-rugged handheld and notebook computers.

Of the 380 workers here, about 20 will be invited to continue working remotely. Another 60 workers have been invited to relocate. General Dynamics spokeswoman Fran Jacques said it’s not clear how many of those 60 have accepted.

The newly adopted economic stimulus package includes additional funds for workers qualifying for the unemployment benefits through the Trade Adjustment Assistance program, said General Dynamics spokeswoman Fran Jacques.

“We will file a new application for the General Dynamics Itronix workers on May 18,” the first date when new requests for benefits can be made, Jacques said.

Whether all or just some of the displaced workers qualify will be decided by the U.S. Department of Labor. The TAA benefits are designed to assist workers affected by work being shifted through outsourcing and offshore sites.

According to Jacques, Itronix’s laid-off workers should qualify since the ultra-rugged computer industry as a whole has been affected by outsourcing and offshore manufacturing.

Like many other U.S. computer makers, General Dynamics Itronix uses production facilities in Asia to build the basic units that are then sent to Spokane for configuration and final assembly.

TAA jobless programs provide retraining funds, health care support and assistance in job searches. Among the enhanced features from the stimulus bill is money to pay for job searches outside an affected worker’s hometown.

The $789 billion stimulus bill also extended the benefits beyond manufacturing jobs to include service-sector workers. Another provision increases by 160 percent the money made available to state governments for worker programs.

Even if 80 workers’ jobs from Itronix are saved through relocation and remote work, the net loss will be 300 workers in Spokane, Jacques said.

Of those about 55 are engineers. Another group, numbering 48, are assemblers who prepared handhelds and notebooks just prior to shipping to customers. The rest of the lost jobs cover the usual spectrum, from finance, marketing and sales to IT support and human resources.

Jacques said 13 jobs for engineers and design managers will move to General Dynamics’ Taiwan operation. That group is involved in design oversight and works closely with Taiwan-based manufacturers building hardware products for Itronix and other companies.

The 48 assembly positions being cut in Spokane will be shifted to other companies in the United States, Jacques said.

Those jobs will be taken over by contract manufacturing companies who have U.S. operations.

Since many of its contracts are with U.S. Defense Department agencies and military branches, General Dynamics must comply with regulations that a substantial portion of the manufacture of those units must be done in the U.S., Jacques said.

Those same companies, which may be headquartered overseas but with U.S. operations, will also provide tech support and service for computers sold by General Dynamics, Jacques said.

Staff writer Tom Sowa can be reached at toms@spokesman.com or at (509) 459-5492.


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