The nation’s largest industrial union is calling on President Donald Trump and congressional leaders to intervene in the mass layoff and potential closure at a Henderson plant, citing national security concerns.
TIMET’s Henderson plant is the U.S.’s sole producer of titanium sponge, which is used in the production of aircraft, satellites, missiles and biomedical devices.
“With so much more than jobs at stake, the USW will not allow TIMET to deprive our nation of this critical resource without a fight,” said Gaylan Prescott of the United Steelworkers. “Before it’s too late, President (Donald) Trump and congressional leaders from both parties must take action to prevent compromising our national defense.”
Last week, TIMET, warned the state of mass layoffs at its Henderson plant, citing an 80 percent decrease in sales due to the coronavirus pandemic. Company officials told the state Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation that it would “idle our Sponge Plant indefinitely” and that layoffs are indefinite.
Company spokesman David Dugan said in a statement “the decision to indefinitely idle our sponge operations was made after an extensive review and following many conversations with the Department of Defense, the Department of Commerce, and other federal government officials.”
U.S. Rep. Susie Lee, D-Nev., said the indefinite closure of TIMET’s sponge plant is “not only an economics issue, it’s a national security issue.” U.S. Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., agreed.
TIMET warned federal regulators as early as 2018 that if the Henderson plant were to close “the U.S. military will be 100 percent reliant upon titanium sponge from geographically and/or geopolitically risky countries, namely Japan, Kazakhstan, Russia, China and Ukraine.”
Lee, whose congressional district includes Henderson where the company plant is located, said TIMET’s layoffs are “unfortunately the very real cost of this pandemic.”
Though sales have taken a hit at the Henderson plant, the company has been saying that it is cheaper to buy sponge than make it “for a while,” said Bill Locke, a USW staff representative for Nevada.
TIMET requested a national security investigation of titanium sponge imports, which the U.S. Department of Commerce launched last year, because low-priced imports of titanium sponge were undercutting the Henderson plant’s operations.
In its letter to state labor officials, TIMET listed close to 200 employees that are anticipated to lose their jobs between now and December. That list includes inspectors, production supervisors, welders and various equipment operators.
“We’re losing good-paying jobs, and that ripple effect will reverberate throughout our economy,” said Locke, adding that the affected employees, many who have been with the plant for decades, “are not going to be able to go out and find similar type of pay and benefit package that the union negotiated over the years for them at TIMET.”
Starting a new career in a different industry is not an option for many TIMET employees getting the pink slip.
“For some folks, this is the only experience they have, in titanium sponge production, and might not find another job like that ever,” said Locke, adding that layoffs at the plant started in early April.
In TIMET’s July 28, 2020 letter to DETR, the company said it was “unable to provide more notice of this action because these circumstances were not reasonably foreseeable until recently when the full impact of COVID-19 became clear.”
The company began its “anticipated date of separation” that same day.
Employers with at least 100 full-time workers must provide 60-day notice if they plan to lay off at least 50 people at a single site under the U.S. Department of Labor’s WARN Act, which is meant to ensure employees have notice before significant layoffs so they have time to find work elsewhere.
Companies that do not comply with the WARN Act are liable to pay each affected employee an amount equal to back pay and benefits for the violation period, which can last up to 60 days.
USW’s Prescott said, “We’re certainly looking at whether or not proper notice is provided.”
Contact Jonathan Ng at email@example.com. Follow @ByJonathanNg on Twitter. Review-Journal staff writer Gary Martin contributed to this report.