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Three Firms Are No-Shows at Hearing on Defense Cuts : Labor: Northrop, McDonnell Douglas and Lockheed draw sharp criticism from workers and House members at congressional hearing.

July 26, 1990|HOWARD BLUME | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PARAMOUNT — Three defense-industry giants were no-shows at a congressional hearing here this week, prompting several members of Congress to charge that Northrop Corp, McDonnell Douglas Corp. and Lockheed Corp. are not concerned enough about thousands of workers who have lost their jobs in corporate cutbacks.

The hearing's purpose was to discuss pending federal legislation that would help defense-industry workers who lose their jobs. The panel of witnesses for the three-hour hearing Monday included local officials, union representatives, business leaders and economists.

"It's difficult to believe the company line that they care, when they don't show up," said Rep. Esteban E. Torres (D-La Puente), who co-chaired the hearing at the United Auto Workers Union Hall with Rep. Mary Rose Oakar (D-Ohio).

Rockwell International Corp, another major defense contractor, sent a representative, as did the Aerospace Industries Assn., which speaks for much of the industry at large. But their presence did not excuse the absentees, Torres said. "They are sending a powerful message to their aerospace workers through their silence," he said.

Spokesmen for the absent defense contractors said Torres' interpretation is wrong.

"It was too short notice," said Don Hanson, a spokesman for McDonnell Douglas. He said the company received notice of the hearing the Wednesday before it took place. The company's facilities include operations in Monrovia and Long Beach, which will endure much of the 10,000 job reductions the company plans for Southern California by year's end.

Lockheed answered in a similar vein. "We're in the process of analyzing the bill and will respond to the committee in written form regarding our specific views about the proposed legislation," said Stephen Chaudet, vice president for public affairs. Lockheed, with major facilities in Burbank, Palmdale and Ontario, has cut its work force by 3,000 this year and by nearly 40,000 since mid-1988.

Northrop officials offered neither a response to Torres' comments nor an explanation of the company's absence.

Two weeks ago, Northrop announced it would reduce its work force by 1,400 in Pico Rivera and 1,350 in Hawthorne. At the time, spokespeople said the cutbacks were needed to increase operating efficiency.

This week, the company received news that could change the situation for the worse. The powerful chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Les Aspin (D-Wis.), withdrew his support for the B-2 bomber. The bomber program, Northrop's major contract, would mean $5.5 billion to the company this year alone.

Research and development of the B-2 took place at Northrop's Pico Rivera plant. At the hearing, Pico Rivera Mayor Alberto Natividad testified that the company's taxes, fees and charitable donations prop up his city's economy.

UCLA economist David Hensley said layoffs at Northrop and elsewhere could trigger a tailspin in the entire California economy, just as the collapse of oil prices in Texas led to a recession there. In 1988 alone, Los Angeles County became the destination for at least $12.5 billion in military contracts. Witness after witness said that beyond the recession issue, the nation needed to re-employ the skills of engineers and scientists in order to keep itself competitive.

In light of these challenges, said members of the congressional subcommittee, the corporate no-shows in Paramount were inexcusable. They also criticized an industry representative who cautioned against excessive government intervention.

"To say that things will get better ultimately is good for you and good for me because we have jobs," said Rep. Julian C. Dixon (D-Los Angeles), to the applause of about 30 rank-and-file union members who watched the proceedings at the United Auto Workers Union Hall.

Earlier that morning, representatives listened to the testimony of Odile Haughton, a former Rockwell employee. After returning from disability late in 1988, she learned that she and most of her department had been laid off. "I was not notified, so I was a little shocked," she said.

Haughton said she could not afford needed medical treatment because her insurance had run out. "I will never starve because my friends and relatives will help me there, but not everyone has support like that," she said.

Said Dixon to the industry representatives: "It's a cheap shot, I admit, but you're not in the position of the woman who came up here."

Union representatives testified that mismanagement had as much to do with layoffs as defense-spending cuts. They also said Lockheed was abandoning many of its Southern California employees by transferring facilities to Georgia, where operating costs are lower.

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