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Shipyard Workers Get Layoff Reprieve

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

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Cost-cutting “furloughs” for shipyard painters, maintenance crews and other civilian defense workers have been put on hold as the Department of Defense weighs a stop-gap budget bill newly passed by Congress.

Short-term layoff (furlough) notices that were to be sent Friday (March 22) to 800,000 shipyard workers have been postponed for at least two weeks, the Pentagon announced late Thursday (March 21).

Department of Defense spending cuts
Huntington Ingall Industries

Maintenance work on many Navy vessels has been uncertain in the face of impending budget cuts. Newport News Shipbuilding has been working on this aircraft carrier under a construction preparation contract.

The announcement followed an 11th-hour agreement in Congress to approve a $984 billion, six-month spending bill that will fund the government through the rest of the fiscal year. The current spending authority was to expire today (March 27).

Now, the Department of Defense is determining the effects of that bill on the military's furlough plans for civilians, according to the Pentagon's American Forces Press Services.

22 Days without Pay

The 30-day notices would have allowed furloughs to start on April 26 and last through September, the end of the fiscal year, resulting in as many as 22 unpaid days off work for civilian employees.

Officials estimate that the notices will now go out April 5, said Navy Cmdr. Leslie Hull-Ryde, a Pentagon spokeswoman.

"The legislation could have some impact on the overall number of furlough delays, but no decisions have been reached, especially since the legislation hasn't been signed into law," Hull-Ryde said. "The number of furlough days at this point remains at 22."

Averting a 'Potential Showdown'

The U.S. House approved H.R. 933, the Full-Year Continuing Approprations Act of 2013, which provides full-year funding levels for five appropriations bills: Defense; Military Construction and Veterans Affairs; Homeland Security; Commerce, Justice and Science; and Agriculture.

"This legislation provides funding for essential federal programs and services, helps maintain our national security, and takes a potential shutdown off the table," House Appropriations Committee chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) said in a press release.

"I'm proud that we were able to reach across the aisle—and across Capitol Hill—to produce a meaningful, bipartisan bill that funds the government responsibly," said Rogers.

"With the approval of this measure, we have laid the foundation for thoughtful and responsible consideration of Appropriations bills, and can now focus our attention on next year's work. I encourage the President to sign this bill into law without delay," he said.

NASSCO Shipyard
NASSCO Shipyard / Ken Wright

Some 800,000 shipyard workers could be affected by furloughs. Current plans call for up to 22 days of unpaid leave.

Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said the delay made sense. "We believe the delay is a responsible step to take in order to assure our civilian employees that we do not take lightly the prospect of furloughs and the resulting decrease in employee pay," he said.

A statement from Little said the delay will "allow the department to carefully analyze the impact of pending continuing resolution legislation on the department's resources."

Defense Funding Summary

A summary of the DoD Appropriations Bill stated that the defense portion of the legislation included funding for critical national security needs, necessary resources the continue the nation's military efforts abroad, and essential funding for health and quality-of-life programs.

The bill provides $518.1 billion in non-war funding, plus $87.2 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) for defense activities related to the Global War on Terror.

The funding is equal to the fiscal year 2012 level and $2 billion more than the President's request, according to the DoD.

Funding in the legislation includes:

  • $127.5 billion for military personnel and pay for 1,402,108 active-duty troops and 843,286 reserves (funding that is exempt from sequestration);
  • $32.7 billion for defense health and military family programs, including medical research on combat-related illnesses and injuries;
  • $173.5 billion for operations and maintenance, including readiness programs to prepare troops for combat and peace-time missions, flight time and battle training, equipment and facility maintenance, and base operations;
  • $70 billion for research, development, testing, and evaluation of new defense technologies; and
  • $100.4 billion for equipment and upgrades.

The bill also includes reductions of $4.0 billion in savings from rescissions of unused prior-year funding; $515 million for unjustified Army growth funding; and $500 million for excess inventory of spare parts and secondary items.

"This averts the threat of a government shutdown when the current continuing resolution expires on March 27," said Captain Steve Williamson, Commander of Puget Sound Naval Shipyard & Intermediate Maintenance Facility.

He added, however: "The one thing this bill doesn't do is eliminate the sequester," the automatic spending cuts that began to kick in March 1.

In a public release, Williamson said he would provide more information as it became available, because "it is good when people know and are aware of what's going on around the command."

"This is why I ask you all to remain focused and do not let events outside of your control take your focus off the job at hand; you are too good for that," concluded Williamson.

Portsmouth Navy rally
NHPR.org / Roger Wood

Portsmouth Naval Shipyard workers and their supporters rallied to raise awareness about a furlough's effect on employees and the local economy.

Shipyard Workers Rally

The same day that the furlough delay was announced, about 150 Portsmouth Naval Shipyard workers and supporters showed up for a rally organized by the Metal Trades Council.

"The impact on our work force will be dramatic," Paul O'Connor, president of the shipyard's Metal Trades Council, told the Portland Press Herald.

"We won't have the money to spend in the local community. We will be struggling week by week to meet our mortgage payments. The ripple effect in the community will be dramatic," O'Connor said.

WARN Letters

In February, more than 5,000 nationwide employees from BAE systems received WARN letters preparing them for possible layoffs stemming from the government's sequester.

The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act is designed to protect workers, their families, and communities by requiring most employers with 100 or more employees to provide 60 days' notice for plant closings and massive layoffs.

Around the same time, Huntington Ingalls also said it was preparing to reduce its workforce on March 27. Newport News Shipbuilding, a division of Hungtington Ingalls, is the largest U.S. military shipbuilder, with 37,000 employees.

   

Tagged categories: Economy; Government; Government contracts; Jobs; Marine; Marine Coatings; President Obama; Shipyards

Comment from Mike McCloud, (3/27/2013, 9:29 AM)

22 days is about 8.5% of the work days of a year if you work 5 days a week. Why not cut SSI, WIC, Social Security 8.5%. They can cut Federal employees pay 8.5%. If everyone cut their pay 8.5% and taxes got cut 5% wouldn't that be like a 3% tax hike?


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