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GOOSE CREEK — The military payroll around Charleston is about to take another hit as hundreds of civilians who stock and service equipment for the Army’s “pre-positioned” ships have received layoff notices.
The letters, issued by contractor Honeywell, mean a minimum of 320 people will be out of work, likely in September, a spokesman said.
The cuts cover professions of all types, including mechanics, drivers, computer operators and technicians who support the command known as Army Strategic Logistics Activity Charleston.
The work involved includes repairs and upkeep on a variety of ready-to-roll cargo, including armored vehicles, military technology, generators and even foodstuffs needed for a quick response to most any global hot spot.
Local defense industry watchers say the ships can carry enough ammunition, food, water, fuel, equipment and other supplies to sustain up to 20,000 troops and armor for up to 15 days.
A Honeywell official said Monday that notifications issued under Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act were sent out about a week ago after the reductions were originally announced in May. WARN letters are required by the Department of Labor for most employers with 100 or more employees as a form of notification sent at least 60 calendar days in advance of plant closings or mass layoffs.
Honeywell spokesman Steve Brecken pegged the announcement to budgetary issues coming out of the Pentagon.
“The U.S. Army is delaying the ship maintenance performed by our Goose Creek employees, which means less work at the site,” said Brecken, director of Global Media and Analyst Relations at Honeywell Aerospace.
As a result, the company has had to adjust staffing to fit a decreased workload, he added. “This, unfortunately, means layoffs that will likely begin in September,” Brecken said.
The employees will receive applicable severance packages, he said.
Honeywell’s alert follows another huge payroll hit now being absorbed across the Lowcountry and state, as a minimum 4,300 civilians who work for various Department of Defense installations around Charleston face the first week of their mandatory federal furloughs.
The reductions, which are part of Congress’ mandatory budget cuts known as the Sequester, mean employees will stay home one day out of every five without pay. The period will run for the 11 weeks, or through the end of September. The math means that local defense employees will lose 20 percent of their take-home pay.
Mary Graham, who follows defense issues for the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce, said the loss of the Honeywell jobs could be significant since they represent skilled labor and tend to be high-paying.
Another downside, she said, is that if the jobs are restored at some point down the road, many people who previously were let go could have already left the area seeking work elsewhere.
There are eight ships in the Army fleet, Graham said, both in Charleston and in strategic sites around the globe. The ships rotate in port periodically, where all the equipment is removed, checked, updated and reloaded, she said.
Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551.
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