More than 700 employees at Newport News Shipbuilding were expected to be furloughed Wednesday, the result of a layoff announcement in December.
"It's never a good thing when people lose their jobs, whether it's termination or layoffs," said Arnold Outlaw, president of United Steelworkers Local 8888. He said union members are concerned about more layoffs this year.
"It's touch and go, as far as the membership is concerned," he said.
Shipyard President Matt Mulherin announced 738 layoffs on Dec. 4. He said the cuts would be effective Feb. 3. In a letter to employees, he said additional job cuts were planned for 2016, but it was too early to know how many will lose jobs or when it will happen.
"There is never a good time to make these reductions, and I know it is especially difficult to be notified just before the holidays," Mulherin's letter stated in December. "The decision for how and when to schedule layoffs is based on our workload and only after all other options have been exhausted."
The shipyard expects to ramp up hiring in 2017, and Mulherin said: "My hope is that these shipbuilders will consider coming back once our workload increases."
The three aircraft carriers leaving Newport News in the coming months represent different types of projects. The company has built the first-in-class Gerald R. Ford, which it will deliver to the Navy in the first half of 2016. The USS Abraham Lincoln is in the home stretch of a lengthy midlife refueling.
The third ship to depart will be the former USS Enterprise, which has been retired from active service and is being decommissioned.
In addition to the 738 furloughs, the company laid off 480 employees in September 2015.
The shipyard, a division of Huntington Ingalls Industries, is Virginia's largest industrial employer. It is the sole U.S. manufacturer of nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, and one of two yards that build nuclear-powered submarines for the U.S. Navy.
Lessig can be reached at 757-247-7821.