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Tooele Army Depot's union leaders support negotiations to bring McDonnell Douglas to the depot but say they're still more comfortable building trucks than jets.

The Army will close the depot's $110 million Consolidated Maintenance Facility at the end of September and has temporarily shuffled the facility's work force to other jobs on the depot.Operating at capacity, the facility could accommodate 800 to 1,000 workers. The Army never operated it near that level since its late 1992 opening. Less than 50 workers remain on jobs there as the facility prepares to close.

The Tooele County Base Reuse Committee has courted two truck manufacturers - Freightliner and Oshkosh - as potential joint occupants for the automated truck remanufacturing plant. But the committee shelved that proposal Aug. 31 in favor of an offer by McDonnell Douglas, which wants the facility to build commercial jet components.

"I would have opted for Freightliner," said Stan Hackwell, president of the American Federation of Depot Employees Local 2453. "McDonnell Douglas is not very encouraging at all - 98 percent of their work is federal contract work. If they can't keep their work, they move all over."

Jeff St. Clair, president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Local 2261, the other TAD union, said the airline industry's instability brings a concern about how long Tooele workers, who would have to be retrained to build aircraft components, would have jobs. "It's a fickle job market. It's up and down," he said. "McDonnell Douglas is a big outfit. It's just the airline industry in general I'm worried about."

Both union leaders are anxious to see a stable tenant in the maintenance facility before TAD has to compete with even more closed military bases in 1995 - especially if Hill Air Force Base lands on the closure list.

"Who is to say that McDonnell Douglas isn't going to start here and end up at Hill?" Hackwell asks.

"If Hill goes down in '95, it seems like it would be easier for McDonnell Douglas to snag a hangar up there right next to a runway," St. Clair said. "I think we're in the spotlight right now because we're on the forefront. Once a lot of these other bases are out in '95, we'll just be one of many."

Hackwell said he wants to find out what job skills McDonnell Douglas would require and whether the company plans to bring employees, or former employees, in from other locations.

Suffering from waning defense contracts and a soft commercial airline market, the company reported a loss of $781 million in 1993 and reduced its work force by about 8,700 workers through layoffs and early retirements.

"The whole idea was to bring (a company) in and get the people here back to work and get the economy stable again. And I don't feel that is what's happening," Hackwell said. "I hope it's just that we don't have enough information.

Earl Tate, reuse committee chairman, said there are circumstances - undisclosed because of "delicate negotiations" - that made the McDonnell proposal the best option. "I think that some job is better than no job, and I think the union would agree with that," he said.

Both unions were represented when the reuse committee voted, in a closed session last week, to pursue McDonnell Douglas' proposal to occupy the facility as soon as lease arrangements can be worked out.

"I would agree that there wouldn't need to be as much retraining (with the Freightliner-Oshkosh proposal), but there were deals in the proposal that made this the best presently," Tate said.

"The reuse committee felt that the statement of qualifications submitted by McDonnell Douglas was the best offer on the table at the time the decision as made," said Tooele Economic Development Director Scott Muir. "St. Clair did voice concerns about the stability of the airline industry (during the committee's Aug. 31 executive session), but when it came time to vote there was not one vote in opposition."

That's about how it went, St. Clair said. "It's the hand we have to play, so we're going to do the best we can with it."