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Shipyard employees to be hit hard by sequestration

Sunday News Correspondent

March 09. 2013 9:19PM
The Portsmouth Naval Shipyard is building a new sonar microphone testing facility as part of its effort to beef up its ability to service the latest attack submarines. (COURTESY)

PORTSMOUTH - The Seacoast Shipyard's Association released their annual economic impact data report on Friday, and although the news from last year is good, the news looking ahead is less positive.

In 2012, the shipyard had a civilian payroll of $421,805,454 split between 5,313 employees, most of them living in Maine and New Hampshire.

The number of employees at the shipyard in 2012 increased by 126 more than 2011 and the civilian payroll increased by more than $13 million.

But now all of those employees are facing up to a 20 percent cut in pay as a result of sequestration.

Paul O'Connor, a member of the SSA and president of the Metal Trades Council, said starting toward the end of April the shipyard will furlough every employee once a week for 22 weeks pending some kind of "sensible" plan coming out of Congress to offset sequestration.

O'Connor said the furloughs amount to an entire month of lost wages over the next five months for every shipyard employee.

The impact will be felt beyond the gates of the shipyard, he said.

"We're like everybody else. We don't have that kind of money to offset that kind of budget cut, so our folks will struggle to make house payments, to make car payments, to pay tuitions for their kids, to put food on the table, to pay the bills . you are not going to see our cars at the malls or the movie theaters or the restaurants," O'Connor said.

The shipyard is also seeing a higher number of resignations and a higher rate of applications for retirement.

"What's the incentive for experienced men and women to stick around and lose pay? It's a tough call," O'Connor said.

He said sequestration is a 10-year program, and unless there is an agreement, there is no reason to expect furloughs won't continue for 10 years.

There is also the national security aspect to consider, he added.

O'Connor said not one penny will be saved by the government because maintenance work has to be done on the nation's submarines no matter what, so sequestration just means the work will fall behind schedule, ultimately costing more money.

Repair work on the USS Miami which was severely damaged in two arson fires last spring has also been deferred as a result of sequestration.

In the room for the release of the report were representatives from the offices of New Hampshire Senators Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, Kelly Ayotte, R-NH and Rep. Carol Shea-Porter's office, D-NH, as well as representatives from the offices of Maine Sens. Angus King and Susan Collins.

O'Connor encouraged the whole delegation to work toward a "common sense solution" to end sequestration.

He said the economic impact report shows the dramatic economic impact the shipyard provides to the greater Seacoast.

"Absolutely our shipyard is the fuel of the Seacoast economic engine," he said.

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