Workers continue strike, to meet with mediator

Published 6:39 pm Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Striking Ingalls shipyard workers held a tailgate party Sunday on the picket line at Northrop Grumman Ship Systems, awaiting talks to begin this week between union agents, company officials and a federal mediator.

The tailgate parties have become a weekend routine with shop talk dominating conversations among small groups of union workers, many of whom would not comment to the media.

Some workers said they were being made to look as if they are asking for too much.

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“We are not asking to get rich,” said Kenneth Hill, a hull welder. “We just want to live comfortable.”

Talks begin again on Wednesday between the parties. The meeting, which the mediator requested, will fall just one day shy of the two-week anniversary of the beginning of the strike, when thousands of workers walked off the job.

The strike has halted work at Mississippi’s largest private employer. The shipyard, among other things, builds ships for the Navy.

The strike was sanctioned by both the 1,200-member IBEW and the Pascagoula Metal Trades Council. The council represents 11 unions and 6,200 workers.

Employees at Northrop Grumman plants in Gulfport, New Orleans and Tallulah, La., approved their new labor agreements, officials said.

According to public relations officials, Northrop sent the unions a letter last week asking them to spell out what workers want.

Union steward and strike coordinator Velda Pollard was registering workers for their time on the picket line. She and Hill said Northrop’s advertisements of its contract are making it seem as if the employees do not understand what is being offered.

“We all understand what they were offering, but its not fair,” Pollard said.