ATK lays off over 400 employees

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PROMONTORY -- The Utah company that makes rocket boosters for the soon-to-be-retired space shuttle laid off 426 employees Thursday because of uncertainty over the future of the U.S. space program.

ATK spokesperson Trina Patterson said, "It's always difficult to do this. These people are really good people."

Majority of ATK layoffs are Utah jobs

Officials say the majority of the layoffs are at the Promontory facility. The company dismissed 414 engineers, factory workers and others at three northern Utah locations.

We've received some projections from NASA on our funding, and they were more conservative than we had thought. That's why we had these layoffs today.

–Trina Patterson

Another dozen ATK workers are being laid off at Florida's Kennedy Space Center and NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.

"We've received some projections from NASA on our funding, and they were more conservative than we had thought," Patterson said. "That's why we had these layoffs today."

She told KSL News 66 employees volunteered to be laid off. All of those being let go will receive severance packages -- up to 26 weeks in some cases -- based on their employment with the company.

Officially, the last day for those losing their jobs is Oct. 5, though many chose to make Thursday their final day.

"This is a very difficult time," Patterson said. "We are never happy about having to do this."

Employees react to layoffs

Layoff were across the board and across departments from technicians to engineers.

One man, who asked to identified only as Art, worked as an ATK structural engineer for a quarter of a century. He got to go to Cape Canaveral several times.

Still, he says, he had a feeling his time at ATK was up.

"I just knew they were going to have to cut deep. I didn't know how deep," he said.

His severance package, he says, allows him a bit of a cushion to find a new job.

Layoffs not a reflection of Utah economy

The layoffs are bad news, especially with the state's unemployment rate at 7.4 percent -- the highest rate since the 1980s. But economists say the bigger picture isn't so grim.

"We're starting to see the job market turn around. Hiring is going back up," Mark Knold, chief economist for the Department of Workforce Services said Thursday.

Knold said the layoffs at ATK are not indicative of the the economy's health.

"These are NASA cutbacks and so on, and these are within the government sphere," Knold said. "Good economy, bad economy; this could have happened in either one."

Economists say recovery may take several years but the long-term prognosis is optimistic.

"We have a young population, we have an educated population. Utah is going to bounce out of this recession quicker than the rest of the country," said University of Utah finance Professor Scott Schaefer.

NASA Reauthorization Bill could save jobs in the future

Officials say there is a possibility of another smaller round of ATK layoffs next year, but they are encouraged by Congress' approval of a NASA Reauthorization Bill late Wednesday night.

"That language, it says that it's going to be comprised of a solid rocket booster in that system," Patterson said. "So that's very helpful for us, and the Utah delegation has been extremely helpful in securing that for the future."

Congress approved the bill that calls for continued development of a heavy-lift space launch system but suspends development plans for a separate transport vehicle for manned travel. Pres. Obama has said he wants the private sector to develop space vehicles.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said the compromise, which approves more than $58 billion in spending over the next three years, was an improvement on Obama administration plans to scrap the future Constellation program in its entirety. That would have killed the manufacture of solid rocket motors in Utah, he said.

U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, said the bill might save jobs at ATK in the future. But he blamed congressional Democrats for failing to provide "a more seamless transition" for the space program.

"Many of the people who are being notified of layoffs are my friends and neighbors, so this hits close to home," he said Thursday. "These are people with whom I live. I go to church with them, I taught their kids."

Bishop contends these layoffs didn't need to happen if the Obama Administration had acted more decisively.

"It is not the best of all possibilities, and it didn't need to be that way," Bishop said. "We will continue this battle."

Thursday's layoffs bring to 2,100 the number of ATK employees who have lost jobs over the past two years. The company has been hiring in its aircraft division.


Story compiled with contributions from Sandra Yi, Sarah Dallof, Cleon Wall and The Associated Press.

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