AFL-CIO slams Northrop for La. shipyard layoffs

The nation’s largest labor union is throwing its weight behind Louisiana ship workers in an effort to save thousands of jobs in the battered New Orleans region. 

The AFL-CIO is ramping up its efforts just as Northrop Grumman, the owner of the Avondale shipyard, begins its layoffs. The company issued the first round of pink slips to workers on Monday. 

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The defense giant announced plans in July to close Avondale in early 2013. At the time, the company also indicated it might sell or spin off its entire shipbuilding unit.

Avondale employs about 5,000 workers. Another 6,000 jobs would be indirectly affected.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said his 12 million-member organization is standing behind the shipyard workers. The union is meeting with government officials and prospective buyers of the shipbuilding unit to try and find a solution that will keep the unit on the job.

Trumka warned that the economic impact of shuttering the shipyard “will be many times” that of this year’s BP oil spill. 

He criticized Northrop Grumman for undertaking the layoffs after the Navy last month announced a plan that could keep Avondale building ships well after 2013. 

Instead, Trumka said, “Northrop Grumman’s response was to proceed ahead with layoffs.” 

Randy Belote, Northrop Grumman’s vice president for strategic communications, said the company is working with government leaders to find “alternate uses” for the shipyard.  

“Northrop Grumman has a very talented workforce in Avondale,” Belote said in a statement. “We anticipate that there will be some job opportunities for Avondale employees at our shipyard in Pascagoula. The fact that the wind down will occur over more than two years will allow for an orderly adjustment of the workforce.”

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Rep. Charlie Melancon (D-La.) announced last month that they secured a commitment from Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus that the Navy will move up the construction of double-hulled tankers by three years, to 2014, and ensure that the construction of two LPD-17 amphibious transport ships will be completed at the yard.

The Navy’s acquisition chief, Sean Stackley, said that the Navy is only ensuring that Avondale has the opportunity to compete with other bidders for the double-hull tanker contract. Stackley also stressed that the Navy can’t keep Avondale open and that the shipyard unit would have to be bought by another company to keep operating.

Stackley indicated that the Navy is signaling to potential buyers that there would be a shipbuilding market for Avondale with the acceleration of the oiler program.

“Northrop Grumman is apparently determined to take advantage of tax loopholes that make it more profitable to destroy these jobs than to keep work in the community,” Trumka said in a statement. “If they want out of shipbuilding, they should sell Avondale to another company that will operate it and keep those 5,000 workers working.”

Northrop Grumman CEO Wes Bush said in July that the decision to close the Louisiana yards was made with the goals of improving efficiency and addressing the problem of excess shipbuilding capacity. He stressed that the company is committed to working with state officials to find alternative uses for Avondale.

Meanwhile, the first bidder for Northrop Grumman’s entire shipbuilding sector publicly announced its intentions on Sunday. Ohio-based Cleveland Ship LLC made a proposal to Northrop Grumman that aims to keep Avondale shipyard in business, according to an information sheet posted on the company’s website.