Union urges strikers to approve new Northrop Grumman contract

Published 4:44 pm Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Union leaders are urging striking workers at the Northrop Grumman shipyard in Pascagoula to end a nearly four-week walkout by approving the company’s new contract proposal.

Workers will vote Wednesday on the latest version of the contract, which the AFL-CIO called a “tentative agreement.”

“We believe this agreement addresses the entire range of concerns from the members and their families and we’re recommending a yes vote,” Ron Ault, national president of AFL-CIO’s Metal Trades Department, said in a statement Tuesday.

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Under the proposal, workers at Northrop Grumman’s Ingalls shipyard — Mississippi’s largest private employer — would get a raise of $2.78 an hour over the next three years. That is $1.22 less than the amount workers originally sought, but 18 cents more than the company’s previous proposal.

In the new contract, first-year shipyard employees would see their average pay rise from $18.32 an hour to $20. The 9.2 percent increase would be one of the largest hourly raises in company history for first-year workers, the company said.

The proposal calls for an immediate $1.68 raise for workers to return, and then a boost of 55 cents a year for the next two years.

“This initial increase was designed to quickly and directly address the economic impacts of Hurricane Katrina on our employees,” Northrop Grumman said in a statement Tuesday.

The unions had sought a $4 an hour raise, phased in as $2 to return to work and two subsequent $1 raises.

The best wage offer the company had previously made was $2.50 an hour phased in over three years. Union members rejected that plan.

Mike Crawley, president of the Pascagoula Metal Trades Council, said in the statement from Northrop Grumman that the new proposal “reflects changes made in response to employee concerns, as expressed in their votes on those previous proposals.”

Under the new plan, the annual average wage would increase from $38,106 to $43,888, and vacation days would increase for workers with one to four years experience, which makes up 30 percent of the current work force.

“This contract provides a very fair financial offer that comprises a competitive wage and benefits package,” said Philip Teel, president of Northrop Grumman Ship Systems. “This proposal meets current and future employees’ needs based on the current and potential economics of the Gulf Coast region while staying within a cost structure that is in line with our customer and shareholder requirements.”

The company and unions went back to the bargaining table Monday at the request of a federal mediator. Talks on Tuesday centered on insurance, and the company would not add dental and vision coverage, WLOX-TV reported.

Voting on the contract proposal will take place from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Wednesday.

Workers went on strike March 8 after twice rejecting company contract offers. Employees at other Northrop shipyards in Gulfport and in Avondale and Tallulah in Louisiana approved the contracts.

Medical insurance for about 7,000 workers affected by the strike ran out Saturday. The workers on strike no longer have a contract, and for April, interim insurance will cost them $810.

This past Thursday was the last day workers could return to work in the yard’s four-day work week and keep their insurance benefits at the company cost of $144 a month.