The following is a statement from Ronald Ault, President of the Metal Trades Department of the AFL-CIO in response to the announcement by Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding that it will consolidate its shipbuilding capacity into its Pascagoula, Mississippi shipyard.
Northrop Grumman Corporation’s announcement that it will consolidate its Gulf Shipbuilding operation is disappointing and regrettable. The Metal Trades Department recognizes the inevitability of that news given the Navy’s earlier decision to constrain its shipbuilding budget, but that doesn’t make the potential impact on workers at the Avondale yard any less painful. Nor does it make a total shutdown inevitable. The Metal Trades and a number of our key affiliates—specifically the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) and the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers (IBB)—began a serious campaign to sustain Avondale on May 10, 2010, but we were cautioned against going “public” with our concerns at that time by the Company and members of Congress, each of whom told us that publicity might upset “delicate negotiations” seeking a solution. Obviously, those authorities were unable to achieve that solution.
The economy of the Gulf region is on life support. Shipbuilding is the largest single employer in the region. The combined impact of the Metal Trades-represented Northrop Grumman shipyards in New Orleans and Pascagoula is $12.6 billion—six times that of the seafood industry. If Avondale, which represents 40 percent of the region’s shipbuilding industry, disappears—the economic impact will be devastating. We can’t blame shipbuilding woes on the oil spill or on a catastrophic storm; but we can say that the demise of Gulf Coast shipbuilding is the result of neglect—benign or otherwise. Regardless of the cause, it is an unacceptable outcome.
We reiterate, for the benefit of the Obama Administration, Congress, elected officials at every level and the American people, America needs a shipbuilding industry. We are rapidly nearing the tipping point where any further loss of capacity may mean that the industry could go from shallow breathing into a comatose state. Any shutdown of a large shipbuilding facility corrodes our strategic national interest and ripples throughout our economy subtracting good paying jobs not just in direct ship construction in the Gulf region, but in the thousands of large and small enterprises that feed the shipbuilding industry’s needs for components. America has neither the resources nor the national resolve to recreate such resources from scratch.
It is clear that New Orleans and its surrounding areas can ill afford to lose one of the last reservoirs of decent middle class jobs that exist today. The economic circumstances for this area cry out for attention and urgent action. We stand ready to help.
We intend to hold Northrop Grumman to its promise to work to explore alternative uses for the facility even before work on the two remaining Navy vessels now under construction.
We will encourage collaboration among private investors, elected officials at the federal state and local level, and the Obama Administration, to work with us to develop a strategic alternative to the complete dissolution of the Avondale facility. We believe that—through a combination of innovation, vision and courage—a new enterprise can emerge that can utilize the skills of the Avondale workforce to address urgent national needs for shipbuilding and energy applications.
It would only take a small measure of policy adjustment—such as stricter enforcement of the Jones Act, especially as it applies to the offshore oil industry; and DOD’s abandonment of its long-term ship leasing policy—to breathe new life into private shipbuilding. We believe that Avondale could economically produce ships for a domestic market as long as that domestic market can be nurtured by rational and stable policies.
Among the other options that can and should be pursued would be the conversion of portions of the Avondale yard to construction of containment vessels for nuclear facilities. At present, there is no domestic source for those vessels and their construction process is not significantly different from that of shipbuilding. The Metal Trades and our affiliates have been suggesting these remedies in various forms for over two decades.
The Metal Trades Department of the AFL-CIO is an umbrella organization comprised of 17 national and international unions. Chartered in 1908, the Department negotiates collective bargaining agreements and coordinates representation in shipyards, nuclear facilities, manufacturing, mining and petrochemical operations throughout the United States.