Friday Is Decision Day for the C-17

Workers at Boeing Co.'s C-17 plant in Long Beach say they expect to learn Friday if the facility will be shuttered because of a lack of orders -- and they aren't expecting positive news.

Jackie Harris, head of United Aerospace Workers Local 148, which represents about 2,300 workers on the C-17 assembly line, said Boeing executives told her Wednesday that workers would be summoned to an "all hands" meeting Friday morning at the sprawling facility next to Long Beach Airport.

Chicago-based Boeing declined to comment, but the company has been saying for several months that unless the Air Force orders additional C-17s the plant probably would be closed at the end of 2008. To date, the Pentagon hasn't ordered more of the planes despite entreaties from local, state and federal elected officials.

"They may tell us they're going to build another 100 planes," Harris said of the Friday meeting, "but that's not how it's looking.

"We have an impending doom situation here."

Because of the long lead time needed to secure parts from subcontractors, Boeing has said it needs to decide by mid-August whether to begin the process of shutting down the plant, even though fulfilling existing C-17 orders will take another 2 1/2 years. The first step would be cutting off orders to subcontractors.

Boeing has spent about $100 million to keep parts flowing to the plant and the assembly line moving. Efforts to sell the plane abroad have resulted in too few new orders to keep the plant open indefinitely.

Political support remains strong for the program, said Boeing spokesman Rick Sanford, "but at this point we don't have the commitments we need to continue the program" beyond the current slate of orders.

"We are approaching our mid-August deadline and a decision is imminent," Sanford said.

Losing the plant would be a significant blow to the Southland economy, local officials say. In addition to the 5,500 or so Boeing workers who build the four-engine jet the program supports about 5,700 jobs at subcontractors around Southern California.

"It's very clear that the ramifications of the loss of jobs will extend well beyond the borders of the city of Long Beach," said Joseph Magaddino, head of the economics department at Cal State Long Beach.

Just this week, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger wrote to President Bush asking that funding for more C-17s be included in the federal budget. The governor wrote that the program "has a multibillion-dollar impact on the local economy" and that the C-17 "plays an essential role in military operations and the global war on terror."

Although defense contracting remains a major employer in the Southland, closing the Long Beach plant would end the region's role as a manufacturer of airplanes.

The C-17, known as the Globemaster III, is used to carry troops and cargo to trouble spots around the globe, and was used to ferry food and other supplies to the Gulf Coast last year after hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The Air Force originally ordered 222 planes, but that was later scaled back to 180.

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