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Published: Saturday, 4/30/2011 - Updated: 3 years ago

Army plan could idle Lima tank work force

BY LARRY P. VELLEQUETTE
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
Workers could be laid off for at least three years at the Lima plant, which began making Abrams tanks in 1981. Workers could be laid off for at least three years at the Lima plant, which began making Abrams tanks in 1981.
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LIMA, Ohio — For decades, they have produced the nation’s ultimate all-terrain vehicle, have taken the vehicles back when they were broken, fixed them up, and sent them out again.

Now, after 30 years of building, fixing, and upgrading the venerable Abrams battle tank in the only factory of its kind in the nation, hundreds of unionized workers at the Joint Systems Manufacturing Center in Lima may become unemployed.

A budget proposal by the U.S. Army after the Pentagon killed two alternative armored vehicle programs slated for the Allen County plant would idle the plant’s current 1,000 employees for at least three years, even as work on the Abrams tanks is scheduled to end.

“What the Army has proposed in the out-years of the budget was no Abrams funding in [fiscal 2013 through 2015],” said Pete Keating, a spokesman for General Dynamics Land Systems, which operates the government-owned Lima plant under contract. Some work would return to the plant in 2016, under the proposed budget.

The plant, which had 1,200 employees this year but has slipped to 1,000, “could be down to 700 by the end of the year,” as refurbishment operations on earlier Abrams and international orders dwindle, Mr. Keating said.

The plant began producing Abrams battle tanks for the Army and allied militaries in 1981 and over the last three decades has produced nearly 10,000 of the 65-ton behemoths, including 8,000 for the Army. In addition to production, the plant for the last several years has refurbished earlier versions of the tank, installing new electronics, armament, mechanics, and other modifications, and putting the restored units back into service.

General Dynamics had hoped to use the northwest Ohio plant to produce an armored Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle for the Marine Corps and a manned combat vehicle for the Army, but those programs have been cut by the Pentagon. Within the last several years, the plant has produced copies of the Abrams for nations including Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Mr. Keating said that without additional work from the U.S. Army, “the international programs alone cannot keep the plant open.”

Workers at the plant are represented by the United Auto Workers Local 2075, whose president, Al Saam, could not be reached for comment Friday. UAW Ohio region director Ken Lortz said the union has been working with legislators to build support to save the plant.

A spokesman for U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) said the speaker intended to ask the Army to reconsider the plant’s fate, given the potential costs of restarting its operations in 2016.

Contact Larry P. Vellequette at: lvellequtte@theblade.com or at 419-724-6091.



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