Boeing Co. on Thursday announced layoffs affecting fewer than 200 workers at its 787 Dreamliner campus and other operations in North Charleston, the first involuntary separations at the facilities since the aerospace giant moved to South Carolina in 2009.
The job cuts are part of a company-wide effort to reduce costs in Boeing's commercial airplane division to better compete with France-based rival Airbus. While thousands of Boeing workers in Washington state have lost their jobs since the cost-cutting program was announced in December, the layoffs had not impacted North Charleston employees until now.
"We are all aware of the need to be more competitive in a relentlessly challenging industry," Joan Robinson-Berry, vice president and general manager of Boeing South Carolina, told employees in a memo Thursday morning. "Our competitors do not rest in their drive to win sales campaigns and neither can we. ... While we understand the business need, it doesn't make this action any easier."
Boeing would not provide a specific number of layoffs, with the memo stating only that it will be "fewer than 200."
The layoffs will affect a wide range of Boeing managers and salaried workers, including: operations management; engineering; quality assurance; analysts; office administrators; and training personnel. Those employees will be offered varying severance packages and job placement programs.
While the news comes about four months after Boeing workers rejected union membership in the International Association of Machinists, none of the layoffs announced Thursday will affect the roughly 3,000 workers who were eligible to vote in that organized labor campaign.
The layoffs also are occurring just a few months after President Donald Trump visited the Dreamliner assembly plant to tout his plans "to unleash the power of the American spirit, and to put our great people back to work." Trump's visit coincided with the debut of Boeing's 787-10 Dreamliner, which is built exclusively at the North Charleston campus.
Robinson-Berry said in her memo that Boeing has worked in recent months to avoid involuntary layoffs by filling open positions internally, trying to find additional work for the North Charleston plants and offering buyout packages to some employees.
"These efforts have resulted in significant job preservation and helped to mitigate the number of layoffs," she said.
While the layoffs were announced Thursday, employees affected by the cuts won't be notified until Friday, when they will be given 60-day notices. Boeing said it will continue to look for ways to preserve jobs and the layoff totals might decline as some workers who are notified ultimately might not lose their jobs if conditions improve.
"The numbers in two months could be lower than what they are today," a Boeing spokesman said.
Robinson-Berry added, however, that there is no guarantee this week's layoff notices will be the only ones for the North Charleston facilities.
"I must be honest with you, there may be more to come," she said in the memo. "I assure you that we remain committed to finding additional work opportunities for Boeing South Carolina, seeking additional cost-cutting measures and offering voluntary layoffs, while keeping you fully informed as decisions are made."
Boeing previously has tried to reduce its North Charleston workforce through voluntary buyouts. In January, the company said it offered buyout packages to an unspecified number of employees. And in April 2016, Boeing asked engineers at its Dreamliner campus and Propulsion South Carolina, which makes engine parts, to take buyouts. The company has not said how many workers accepted the buyout offers.
The layoffs announced Thursday will further reduce headcount at Boeing's North Charleston plants, which are already at their lowest employment levels in 3 1/2 years.
According to the company's website, Boeing South Carolina had 7,379 employees and contractors as of May 25. That is the lowest employment level since November 2013, when the aerospace giant reported 7,123 workers in North Charleston. A total of 863 positions have been trimmed over the past year — a nearly 10.5 percent decline since May 2016.
Company-wide, Boeing has cut 13,971 jobs, a nearly 9 percent workforce reduction, in the last 12 months.
Boeing remains one of the Charleston region's largest employers. In addition to the Dreamliner assembly and engine parts manufacturing facilities, the company makes interior parts for the Dreamliner at a Palmetto Commerce Park site and operates a research facility and information technology site.