Doing it right at the shipyard

Mississippi Press (blog) // Nov. 21, 2011
By Mississippi Press Editorial Board

FOR THE second time in two years, Ingalls Shipbuilding and its unions had the foresight to negotiate constructively and come up with a proposed contract for its Pascagoula operation that’s well ahead of the deadline.

Five unions and the company are on board with the proposal, according to a flier handed out to workers Friday. Considering the thousands of workers affected, this is an outstanding achievement.

Because of their foresight and cooperation, labor and management aren’t likely to see the kind of conflict that occurred in 2007, when there was a month-long strike at the Pascagoula shipyard.

If union members approve the three-year contract Dec. 1, a new contract would also lay to rest any uncertainty that may have lingered since the last contract was extended two years ago.

Indeed, a smooth working relationship feeds the economy of the entire Gulf Coast, because Ingalls enjoys a wide reach. The company, spun off from Northrop  Grumman Corp. earlier this year, employs about 10,500 people at the Pascagoula yard and 500 more in Gulfport. It’s Mississippi’s largest private employer but also draws heavily from southwest Alabama.

The proposal calls for three modest wage increases, beginning in January and ending in March 2014, along with a potential cost-of-living raise and a ratification bonus of $1,000 payable Dec. 16. It also calls for workers to pay more in health care premiums, with three increases made on the same timetable as the raises. The plan appears reasonable, given current business practices and the economy. Huntington Ingalls appears cognizant of the need to have amicable working relations with its unions in order to prosper.

Despite a net loss for the shipyard in the third quarter, the future is looking bright for the company. It recently landed a $13 million Navy contract add-on that should keep employees busy through the coming year. It involves work on the Navy DDG 1000 Zumwalt-class destroyers.

Crafting a contract proposal without conflict indicates that both labor and management respect one another. With that as a foundation, the company has a leg up in retaining the skilled and experienced employees it needs to compete.

Tell Congress Not to Target Federal Employees With Deficit Reduction Proposals

A group of lawmakers dubbed the “Super Committee” have been tasked with finding trillions of dollars in cuts in order to reduce the deficit. The committee is expected to compile its recommendations into legislation in early November and vote on the measure by November 23. According to numerous sources, “everything is on the table,” including reductions to federal employee health and retirement benefits and arbitrary cuts to the federal employee workforce.

As you are well aware, federal employees are already working under a two-year pay freeze, which is estimated to save the government $60 billion in 10 years. Federal employees did not create the budget deficit and cannot be expected to shoulder the burden on future cuts.

Send a clear message to Congress that it cannot reduce the deficit on the backs of hardworking federal employees.

Talking Points:

OPPOSE ANTI-FEDERAL EMPLOYEE PROPOSALS

In a misguided attempt to decrease the deficit, newly elected leadership in the 112th Congress has taken aim at federal employees by proposing aggressive cuts to federal pay and staffing levels. Currently, there are several proposals on the table that would eliminate pay increases; cut the civilian federal employee workforce; and force the federal workforce to take a two-week furlough in FY 2012. The Metal Trades Department, AFL-CIO and its affiliates are greatly concerned about these proposals and the negative impact they will have on the federal workforce.

PAY FREEZE

  • Contrary to numerous myths contrived by non-government sources about federal employee compensation, federal workers are not overpaid; they are significantly underpaid compared to workers performing the same jobs in the private sector. Based on data collected by Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) reported in October 2010 that private sector workers continue to have a significant salary advantage over federal employees. This advantage grew an additional two percentage points to 24 percent in 2010.
  • In today’s changing environment, it is even more important that the federal government have the ability to recruit and retain the most experienced and professional employees. Freezing or cutting the pay of the federal workforce sends the wrong message to the current workforce as well as potential employees. In fact, freezing or cutting pay may only succeed in discouraging potential employees at a time when the federal government needs a strong workforce.
  • Federal employees have already made sacrifices by accepting a two-year pay freeze and are doing their part to lower government costs. We are opposed to any attempts to extend the current pay freeze by another three years as well as freezing all bonuses during that same time period. These changes would make it extremely difficult and costly for federal agencies to recruit and retain the talent necessary to function optimally.

DECREASING BENEFITS

  • Currently, there is a proposal that seeks to eliminate the defined-benefit annuity under the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) for federal employees hired starting in 2013. The elimination of the FERS annuity will also result in the elimination of the FERS survivor benefit, something many retired federal employees and their spouses rely on to make ends meet.
  • In addition, there are attempts being made to change the formula for computing federal employee pensions. Federal employees depend on a retirement based on the current formula, which Congress created in an attempt to bring the system more in line with the private sector during creation of FERS. Making changes to the formula will result in pensions that are approximately three percent less than what is currently available. This will severely impact those federal employees near retirement and result in a significant income loss for all federal workers.
  • Another proposal would convert the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP) into a defined contribution premium support arrangement. This arrangement would provide federal employees and retirees with a voucher to secure health insurance. According to the proposal, future retirees and survivors would not be eligible to participate in FEHBP. Currently, federal employee retirees and survivors must be annuitants to receive health insurance under FEHBP.
  • It is unconscionable to consider slashing the benefits that agencies rely on to attract and retain the highest caliber employee. The Metal Trades Department, AFL-CIO urges Congress to reject proposals that seek to decrease the benefits on which federal employees and their families rely.

CUTTING THE FEDERAL EMPLOYEE WORKFORCE

  • The Metal Trades Department, AFL-CIO is concerned about further reductions to the federal employee workforce, including proposals that would reduce the federal civilian employee workforce by at least 10 percent; reduce the size of the federal workforce by attrition by hiring only one employee for every two who retire or leave service; or prohibiting agencies from hiring any new employees until the deficit has been eliminated. Especially in light of the pending retirements, the United States cannot afford to lose even more talented and experienced employees.
  • Due to the fiscal realities of the current federal budget, some downsizing is inevitable; however, implementing these misguided proposals is reckless and will cause federal agencies, many of which are already understaffed, to endure a personnel crisis. This crisis would greatly limit the federal government’s effectiveness and reduce critical services on which the American people rely. The Metal Trades Department, AFL-CIO is opposed to any legislation that would arbitrarily make cuts to the federal workforce.

FURLOUGHS

  • Currently, there are proposals calling for a two-week federal workforce furlough in FY 2012, which would require agencies to write regulations that would force many civilian federal workers to take 10 non-consecutive days of mandatory unpaid leave during the course of the fiscal year. Forcing employees to take time away from work would limit or delay the important services they provide and force agencies to shift backlogged work to more expensive contractors. Furloughs would also negatively impact recruitment and retention efforts.
  • The impact of a furlough was recently made obvious when nearly 4,000 FAA employees were forced to go without work and pay for nearly two-weeks due to congressional standoff. As a result, the FAA was prevented from moving forward on critical airport projects and improvements totaling nearly $2.5 billion, and stop work orders were issued on major initiatives related to the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen). The partial shutdown is estimated to have cost the FAA nearly $30 million a day in lost revenue generated from airline ticket taxes. In order to ensure safe and efficient operations of not only the aviation system but all federal programs and agencies, The Metal Trades Department, AFL-CIO opposes any legislation asking for a federal workforce furlough.
  • Sample Letter for Congress:(find your representative using the zipcode search on the left. Copy and past the suggested message below or add your own message to send to congress. Be sure to fill in your agency and job description/duties.)

    —– begin copying here ——

    Dear Congressman/Senator:

    As your constituent, I have serious concerns about proposals that could be considered by the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction during deficit reduction negotiations with the potential to severely impact federal employees.

    Federal employees are doing their part to lower government costs and have already made personal sacrifices by accepting a two-year pay freeze that will result in $60 billion in savings over the next 10 years. As a federal employee who works at the [LIST YOUR AGENCY], I understand the notion of shared sacrifice, but federal employees cannot be expected to shoulder all of the burden to balance the budget. Obviously, federal employees did not create the budget crisis, but there are several proposals circulating that unfairly target federal employees like me.

    I hope that you will reject these anti-federal worker proposals. I urge you and members of the Joint Committee to oppose any proposals seeking to decrease the pay and retirement/health benefits on which federal employees, including me and my family, have come to rely.

69th Convention Delegates Reelect Ault, Expand Executive Council

Delegates to the Metal Trades Department’s 69th Convention re-elected Ron Ault to a third full term as President, along with 10 incumbent members of the Department’s Executive Council. The Convention also acted to welcome the Laborers International Union as an affiliate. LIUNA re-affiliated with the Department earlier in the year.

The Convention expanded the Department’s Executive Council by one position and elected Laborers International President Terry O’Sullivan to that spot.

President Ault reported that the Department enjoyed significant progress on several fronts in the days leading up to the Convention. “Nothing comes quickly in the labor movement, but patience and hard work often pays off in the long view,” he said.

Ault pointed to developments at Avondale Shipyard, where a combination of public and private investment promises to open up vast new opportunities for the shipbuilding industry after decades of decline. He was alluding to an infusion of more than $500 million in federal and state money that the Department has helped stimulate by lobbying and galvanizing the community to hopefully transition the shipyard from Navy shipbuilding to new commercial vessels. Additionally, serious private investors are in talks with the shipyard to begin building a series of Jones Act vessels to launch a short sea shipping service on U.S. waterways.

Ault also predicted that the Department is “very close” to culminating work on behalf of former nuclear workers who have been struggling to win compensation for illnesses they contracted due to exposure to toxic and radioactive materials.

He thanked delegates and Metal Trades Councils for the support and energy they provide to press these and other campaigns.

Building Trades President Mark Ayers delivered a rousing keynote, calling on delegates to “stand up” to the threat of corporate money and Wall Street greed.

He said the spread of demonstrations by activists engaged in various Occupy efforts in cities across the nation is a “glimmer of hope” that working Americans can reclaim their democracy.