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.