Ford Aerospace & Communications said Wednesday that 600 of the 1,900 Orange County employees assigned to the now-canceled Sgt. York program will be laid off Friday, the first of a series of staff cuts expected to follow Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger's decision last week to halt production of the billion-dollar anti-aircraft gun.
The first round of layoffs is hitting low-level production workers at the company's assembly plants in Newport Beach and Irvine and at its test site in San Juan Capistrano.
A company spokesman said discussions are proceeding on what to do with the remaining 1,300 employees assigned to the defunct program, and an announcement may be made next week.
The company has said it hopes to absorb some of the displaced Sgt. York employees in its 3,200-worker Aeronutronics division in Newport Beach. It has also promised to help employees find jobs with aerospace companies throughout Southern California.
The first of those job-finding efforts will be an employment fair Saturday at the company's Newport Beach headquarters. About two dozen companies, including Lockheed, TRW, Litton, Northrop and Magnovox, are expected to attend, according to a Ford spokesman.
However, Orange County labor analysts have not been optimistic about the opportunities awaiting the laid-off Ford workers.
They say the aerospace companies currently hiring engineers may not need the type of engineers that Ford hired for the Sgt. York program. And production and assembly-line workers are expected to encounter a depressed market for their skills because of the continuing sales slump in the computer industry that has already caused hundreds of layoffs throughout Southern California.
McDonnell Douglas' information systems group based in Newport Beach, for instance, confirmed Wednesday that it cut a total of 110 workers at three of its Orange County plants late last month as a result of stagnant computer sales.
The layoffs were described by a company spokesman as part of a "mid-course adjustment" taken throughout the company's nationwide operations.
Since July, the spokesman said, 575 jobs have been axed at company computer and communications product plants throughout the nation.
The Orange County units affected by the layoffs were McDonnell Douglas Computer Systems, which makes computers; McDonnell Douglas Business & Network Systems, which sells computers, and McDonnell Douglas Field Service, which repairs and services computers. All three units were created following McDonnell Douglas' purchase of Microdata.
The layoff notices at Ford came just nine days after Weinberger stunned Ford Aerospace officials by immediately stopping work on the tank-mounted gun, after the Army had already spent $1.8 billion on the program.
Ford executives had privately expected Weinberger to cancel future orders of the often-criticized gun, but they admitted that they were caught off-guard by the abrupt halting of work on systems already ordered.