There was a mix of emotions Friday outside Northrup Grumman’s Avondale Shipyard. While workers celebrated the U.S. Navy’s announcement that the shipyard could have work after the shipyard’s projected closing in 2013, layoffs are a reality. Hundreds of workers rallied for their livelihoods
Arlene Holt Baker, AFL-CIO Executive Vice President told them, “it’s time to throw the heat on Northrup Grumman. They turned the heat up on you, and decided they would throw workers and the whole community into the fire.”
There’s a lot of concern about the future despite the Navy’s announcement it would move up construction of its double hulled tankers to 2014, giving Avondale a chance to compete for a contract. “That was really good news, but still people are getting laid off like myself.. I get laid off next week and my wife works here.. She’s getting laid off too. So it’s like a double whammy for some families,”said Bruce Lightell with the boilermakers union, Local 1816.
Lightell says he wants to keep building ships, and won’t walk away without a fight. “We think that there’s a way the union can work with management to help us make a profit,” said Justin White, a member of the Seafarers International Union. Workers are counting on a buyer for the shipyard because they say 5,000 employees, their families and the community are at risk. “We had Katrina, a catastrophe.. BP.. This is another one. This is the third catastrophe. This company’s employees put in $2 billion into the local economy and nobody talks about that.. How important this is to this area,” said Lightell.
UNO naval architect Chris McKesson, who’s designed advanced warships for the U.S. Navy said he believes there’s a good future for shipbuilding in general in the U.S. “I don’t think we’ll see ships moved 100-percent offshore. I think we need to seriously rethink what it is that we bring that’s special to bear on the shipbuilding process, problems, the task. For too many years we’ve tried to distinguish ourselves purely on a cost basis. Frankly, I don’t want to be the low cost leader, but the high quality leader.” He said the shipbuilding industry is viable in the U.S., but will have to change and develop new technologies. “We built ships before Grumman, and we want to build them after Grumman,” said Lightell. McKesson said UNO is conducting research to help move the industry forward. The university owns a facility in Avondale where people are studying building a titanium test section of a vessel. McKesson said titanium is a very high tech material that’s never been done in the past. Northrup Grumman issued the following statement after today’s rally for workers: “Northrop Grumman’s decision to consolidate all Gulf Coast shipbuilding activities to the Pascagoula and Gulfport facilities by 2013 is driven by a strategic business approach to reduce our industrial footprint to be more in line with the Navy’s 30-year shipbuilding plan. This will result in reduced costs and increased efficiencies, making future ships we build more affordable. We have a very talented workforce in Avondale and as we have stated previously, we will work with our customers and with local, state and federal leaders to explore alternate uses for the facility.”