Navy asked for help after ship industry cuts

Hugh Lessig
Contact Reporterhlessig@dailypress.com
Navy assistance sought for ship industry layoffs

Concerned by recent layoffs at two Hampton Roads shipyards, Virginia lawmakers have asked the Navy for help.

In two letters sent Thursday to Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, the lawmakers suggested the Navy could farm out lower-priority jobs to private shipyards and hire displaced workers at its Norfolk Naval Shipyard.

Last month, Newport News Shipbuilding announced 480 layoffs and said more are coming in 2016. Days later, BAE Systems Norfolk Ship Repair said it planned to cut 650 employees, about 40 percent of its workforce.

Executives at the Newport News shipyard, a division of Huntington Ingalls Industries, pointed to a temporary drop in work through next year. They hope to resume hiring in late 2017. BAE cited a number of factors that led to fewer ship repair jobs, from delayed projects to several ships that have left Hampton Roads for other ports.

One letter was signed Reps. Randy Forbes, R-Chesapeake; Rob Wittman, R-Westmoreland; Scott Rigell, R-Virginia Beach; and Robert C. "Bobby" Scott, D-Newport news.

The second letter came from Virginia's two Democratic senators: Mark Warner and Tim Kaine.

With more than 1,100 job cuts already announced between the two yards, both letters pointed to a potential job loss of about 2,500.

That would include the layoffs anticipated at Newport News in 2016.The House stated, "Other yards in the area are anticipating further reductions but have yet to make them public."

Shipbuilding and ship repair are core industries in Hampton Roads, where defense-related activities and spending account for 42 percent of the region's economy. Both letters suggest the Navy can help stabilize these key industries over the short term.

The Norfolk Naval Shipyard is hiring workers, and that could be a potential landing spot for experienced shipbuilders who find themselves out of work, both letters say.

Out-sourcing of jobs is another possibility.

In August, Newport News Shipbuilding successfully competed for a maintenance and modernization contract for the submarine USS Columbus. The initial award was for $57.8 million, with total potential value of $288 million.

The Navy's public shipyards normally do this type of job, but it must be contracted out when necessary, Navy officials previously told the Daily Press.

The House letter specifically mentions submarine maintenance work as a possibility for out-sourcing.

The Navy did not immediately comment on either letter.

Lessig can be reached by phone at 757-247-7821.

Copyright © 2017, The Virginia Gazette
55°