Statement from Metal Trades Department, AFL-CIO President Ron Ault on the allegations that Austal, USA violated the False Claims Act

WASHINGTON, DC–As the labor representative for workers at the major shipyards building Naval vessels in the U.S., I am deeply disturbed by the allegations that Austal, USA violated the False Claims Act.

For years, the Metal Trades Department has suspected that the company is abusing the Alabama Industrial Development Training (AIDT) center by garnering state and local tax incentives while failing to properly train prospective employees. The legal allegations brought forth in the June 2014 lawsuit filed by the Gardner Firm PC, only further justifies our concerns.

As reported by Law360’s Jacob Fischler in Ex-Workers Say Navy Shipbuilder Faked Employee Records, the “employees were sometimes misrepresented as supervisors to skirt government provisions about how many supervisors were required per shift, as well as to boost their reimbursement potential.” We believe that this type of misrepresentation is rampant at Austal, USA.

Employees at Austal have had their voices ignored repeatedly.  Our representatives have expressed concern to the Navy that these practices might be happening. We were not kept abreast of what, if any, action was taken by Navy personnel. This company has violated U.S. laws, fired employees who complain. As outlined in the lawsuit, three of the five relators—those named in the suit—were fired after reporting the alleged fraud to supervisors. The environment of intimidation and fear has caused most to keep their head down for fear of losing their jobs.

These new accusations, as well as the repeated OSHA citations issued to Austal, USA shows the callous disregard this company has for both U.S. regulations and its workforce. The U.S. Navy and the hard-working men and women in our shipyards deserve better.

Workers at Aker Philadelphia Shipyard Ratify New Four Year Contract

The Philadelphia Metal Trades Council (PMTC) announced today that workers voted to ratify a new four-year collective bargaining agreement at Aker Philadelphia Shipyard, Inc., the sole operating subsidiary of Aker Philadelphia Shipyard ASA.

“This contract ratification is another example of successful collaboration between union and management, and a clear example of how cooperation keeps organizations moving forward,” said Lou Agre, President of the Philadelphia Metal Trades Council.

The Philadelphia Metal Trades Council is the sole bargaining representative for production and maintenance employees at Aker and consists of ten unions.

PMTC is a Council chartered under the Metal Trades Department, AFL-CIO. The Metal Trades Department is a trade department of the AFL-CIO. It was chartered in 1908 to coordinate negotiating, organizing and legislative efforts of affiliated metalworking and related crafts and trade unions. Seventeen national and international unions are affiliated with the MTD today. More than 100,000 workers in private industry and federal establishments work under contracts negotiated by MTD Councils. Workers retain membership in their own trade unions.

Coast Guard chief: Repealing Jones Act jeopardizes U.S. fleet

1/15/15 12:17 PM EST
The commandant of the Coast Guard waded into the congressional fight over the Jones Act on Thursday, arguing that repealing it would jeopardize the U.S. fleet of trade vessels.

“That for me is a real consequence, if we have foreign flagged vessels doing coastalized trade, what are the safety standards, what are the maritime pollution … standards, how are they in compliance with the same standards that we apply to our U.S. fleet?” Adm. Paul Zukunft said at the Surface Navy Association’s National Symposium in Crystal City, Va.

“I think, at the end of the day, it will put our entire U.S. fleet in jeopardy, where our fleet of roughly 80-plus international U.S.-flagged vessels will rapidly go to zero,” he said. “And then in a time of crisis, who are we going to charter to carry out our logistics? … Very difficult if we don’t have a U.S. flagged ship.”

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is seeking to attach an amendment to the Senate’s Keystone XL pipeline legislation that would repeal the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, known as the Jones Act, which requires that goods shipped between U.S. ports be carried by vessels built in the country and owned and operated by Americans.

The new Senate Armed Services chairman argued the policy is “antiquated,” and raises costs for U.S. consumers by placing unnecessary restrictions on trade vessels.

Zukunft didn’t hesitate to list what he viewed as negative consequences of repealing the policy, but he said he didn’t want to get in the middle of the congressional fight.

“We deal with the consequences of how these policies play out, and I’ve found it very prudent to just deal with the consequence and not find myself the salami between those two slices of bread on these policy decisions,” he said.

There are a number of stakeholders in the Jones Act battle, but first and foremost is the U.S. shipbuilding industry, Zukunft said.

Shipbuilding advocates are fighting back against McCain’s push, including the Navy League, which argued that repealing the Jones Act would lead to a reduction in the number of ships built in U.S. shipyards. The Navy League also said repealing the law would lead to increased costs for Navy and Coast Guard vessels, which are built in the United States where the trade protections mean shipyards have lower overhead costs.

There are now about 15 tanker ships under construction that will be U.S. flagged ships, increasing the fleet size by more than 20 percent, he said. And much of that increase is due to demand for U.S. export ships, which would decrease if the Jones Act is repealed, he said.

Austal USA Cited for the Third Time in Five Years for Serious Health and Safety Violations

WASHINGTON, DC—Navy shipbuilder, Austal USA, was cited November 18, 2014, by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), for 12 serious health and safety violations. This was the third citation in the last five years.

The company was cited and fined for a dozen health violations including fall hazards; improperly secured gas cylinders; improper wiring, exposing workers to possible electrical shock, and other electrical hazards; failure to prevent accidental machine startup; improper machine guards exposing workers to potential amputations, puncture and being caught in machines; failing to properly store and label hazardous materials.  Some of the most concerning issues is the overexposure to copper fumes while welding, along with overexposure to aluminum dust. Fines totaled more than $40,000.

Austal USA, is the U.S. subsidiary of the Australian company Austal, LLC. The company builds the Independence Variant of the LCS Class high-speed for the U.S. Navy.

“The government expects that contractors, such as Austal, should not only deliver a good product, but also conduct operations in a safe manner,” said Joseph Roesler, OSHA’s area director in Mobile, in a press release issued by OSHA. “The lack of attention to safety and health issues unnecessarily exposed employees to hazards at the Mobile facility, and these hazards need to be addressed and controlled throughout the shipbuilding process.”

“We have been saying for years that there are serious safety concerns in that shipyard,” said Ron Ault, president of the Metal Trades Department, AFL-CIO. “These are some of the most egregious violations that are putting workers at risk right now, but, also down the road. The company is failing to provide proper ventilation allowing workers to be overexposed to copper fumes and aluminum dust.  That failure can lead to illnesses later in life. We’ve had reports of numerous workers experiencing chronic respiratory issues, headaches, and nose bleeds. And, workers are being fired for missing work because they can’t get rid of these respiratory and flu like symptoms. A quick look at the Safety data sheets related to the potential health hazards from being exposed to these materials at Austal is alarming. Flu & pneumonia like symptoms, chronic respiratory issues, memory loss, pulmonary fibrosis, kidney problems and cancer are some of the most distressing health effects.”

The Metal Trades Department, AFL-CIO was contacted by workers seeking a union at the shipyard a few years ago and has been conducting an organizing campaign through their Mobile Metal Trades Council.

Austal receives billions dollars from their Navy contract and has received more than $100 million in funding from the state of Alabama. “With all of the government funding that this foreign company receives there is no excuse for ignoring basic health and safety laws,” said Ault.

The Metal Trades Department is a trade department of the AFL-CIO. It was chartered in 1908 to coordinate negotiating, organizing and legislative efforts of affiliated metalworking and related crafts and trade unions. Seventeen national and international unions are affiliated with the MTD today. More than 100,000 workers in private industry and federal establishments work under contracts negotiated by MTD Councils. Workers retain membership in their own trade unions.

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Ingalls Shipbuilding Celebrates Apprentice Graduation

By George Blackwell, MarineLink.com

Huntington Ingalls Industries (HII) informs that it has held a graduation ceremony for graduates of Ingalls Shipbuilding’s Apprentice School. The ceremony, held at the Mississippi Gulf Coast Convention Center, celebrated the accomplishments of 72 students representing various crafts at Ingalls.

This is the first graduating class that had students who attended classes in the new Haley Reeves Barbour Maritime Training Academy. Through the academy, Ingalls is entering into a new phase of partnership with the Mississippi Community College System that offers a path into bachelor’s degree programs.

Currently, more than 60 faculty and staff deliver 14 different programs and over 120 course offerings that enable apprentices to gain not only the skills, knowledge and pride of workmanship, but also the educational foundation and personal qualities needed to fully meet the challenges of a shipbuilding career. Today more than 1,500 apprentice alumnae fill approximately 50 different types of jobs at Ingalls, from pipe welders to senior executives.

Since 1952, the Apprentice School has produced more than 4,000 graduates in support of Ingalls’ operational needs. The program involves comprehensive two- to four-year curriculum for students interested in shipbuilding careers.

“The expertise you’ve acquired during your time at the Ingalls Apprentice School will serve you well throughout your career, as you establish yourselves as the next generation of craftsmen,” said Vice Adm. William Hilarides, commander, Naval Sea Systems Command, who served as the keynote speaker. “Whether you’re graduating today as an electrician, a welder, a sheet metal cutter or one of the many other trades, you are providing a much-needed skill, not just to Ingalls, but to the Navy and the nation.

Marine electrician Brandon Hamilton, the Outstanding Apprentice of the Year, spoke at the ceremony. “I’m a fourth-generation Ingalls shipbuilder,” he said, “so I grew up hearing about the shipyard and wanted to become a part of it. I learned many things and got a well-rounded experience in the apprentice program. Working with different foremen and crews in many areas of the ship taught me new ways to work with a team, and I learned valuable skills that will stay with me as I enter into this new phase of my career.”

“This ceremony is a celebration of your successful completion of this apprentice program and is an opportunity for us to show you how proud we are of you and what you have accomplished,” said Ingalls Shipbuilding President Brian Cuccias. “When you entered the program, we believed in your potential. Being here today proves we were right. As I look out across this room, I am encouraged by what our future holds. I am proud of each and every one of you. Continue the momentum you have started, because you are the future of Ingalls Shipbuilding.”

Owner of Avondale Shipyard acquires energy company UniversalPegasus

By Jed Lipinski, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune on June 02, 2014 at 4:28 PM, updated June 02, 2014 at 4:37 PM

In what may be a good sign for Avondale Shipyard, Huntington Ingalls Industries announced today that is has acquired UniversalPegasus International Holdings, a Houston company that provides engineering and project management services to the energy sector.

The news comes shortly after Huntington Ingalls, a shipbuilder based in Newport News, Va., agreed to conduct a six-month study with Kinder Morgan Energy Partners to determine a new use for the struggling shipyard, whose workforce has been reduced to less than 500 from around 5,000 in 2010. Keep Reading >

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