Shipyard Workers Looking at Long Furloughs
If sequestration goes into effect on March 1, thousands of union employees will begin several weeks of furloughs and the future of the USS Miami repair project will be in doubt.
Depending on what Congress ultimately chooses to do regarding sequestration, several thousand Portsmouth Naval Shipyard jobs hang in the balance.
Paul O'Connor, president of the Metal Trades Council at the shipyard which includes 2,500 union members, more than one-third of the shipyard's 6,500 work force, knows one thing that will definitely happen.
"We will have furloughs for 22 weeks, one day a week," said O'Connor. He added the furloughs will amount to the loss of a full month's pay for the union's members. He also said layoffs are a very real possibility if Congress doesn't come up with a solution for sequestration before the 22 weeks of furloughs ends.
Even more worrisome to O'Connor is that the shipyard's ability to service the Navy's Los Angeles class and Virginia class nuclear submarines will also suffer. He said the furloughs amount to a 20 percent cut in overall production during what would be a five-month period. O'Connor said the USS Miami repair project, which is a little more than half funded at about $250 million, could also become another casualty of sequestration because the remaining $200 million would not be appropriated. The USS Miami was heavily damaged by fire in May 2012.
Earlier this month, a U.S. Navy directive for shipyards to cut 10 percent of their expenses in fiscal year 2013 in anticipation of the mandated $1.2 trillion in sequestration cuts could put 3,000 shipyard jobs in jeopardy at all four of te Navy's shipyards, including 1,121 temporary jobs. The sequestration cuts are scheduled to go into effect on March 1, which means federal lawmakers have less than two more weeks to act.
On Thursday, shipyard officials were unable to say how many jobs would be cut if additional Department of Defense cuts go into effect. Shipyard public affairs officer Danna Eddy referred all inquiries to the U.S. Navy Chief of Information desk in Washington, D.C., and they did not return phone calls last week.
Meanwhile, U.S. Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, and Susan Collins, R-Maine, continue to work with their Senate colleagues to craft a solution to stop the potential hemorrhaging of jobs. They recently urged the Senate leadership to come up with a new balanced, bipartisan deficit reduction solution.
In their letter to Senate leaders Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Shaheen and Collins wrote that if the Senate fails to come up with a new deficit reduction plan that will head off $1.2 trillion in future sequestration cuts, this “would have severe ramifications for many critical defense facilities, including our own Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.”
On Friday, Shaheen reaffirmed her promise to do everything she can to try and avert sequestration.
"We are starting to see the very real and negative consequences of Congressional inaction on our national security and our economy alike as businesses across the nation begin to prepare for automatic budget cuts under sequestration," said Shaheen in a prepared statement. "This is especially true at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, where the uncertainty surrounding sequestration is already straining our national security operations. I am committed to seeking pragmatic, bipartisan solutions to avoid the devastating impact of these cuts."
U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-NH, has also filed legislation designed to alleviate the defense spending cuts. According to Liz Johnson, who serves as Ayotte's press secretary, Ayotte reintroduced the Down Payment to Protect National Security Act of 2013.
If approved, the legislation would pay for one year of defense and non-defense sequestration by requiring a reduction in the federal workforce through attrition and a pay freeze for Members of Congress, according to Johnson.
"We’re already feeling the effects of sequestration in New Hampshire, where the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and our defense suppliers are bracing for these cuts," said Ayotte in a prepared statement. "We can prevent the first year of sequestration without raising taxes."
O'Connor said he is not optimistic that Congress will be able to avert sequestration because there is so little time left. "I have no confidence that somehow Congress will somehow start working together."
"The most frustrating thing about sequestration is that it was totally manufactured by Congress," O'Connor added.
Do you think members of the New Hampshire and Maine Congressional delegations can come up with a way to prevent Portsmouth Naval Shipyard jobs from being lost to sequestration by March 1?