Posted by: arbeam | June 11, 2013

Hiring freeze means shipyard calling on upper-level staff to fill void

BREMERTON — Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, spared from furloughs but gouged by a hiring freeze, is focusing its workforce on the waterfront. Capt. Steve Williamson, the facility’s commander, is asking anybody who has ever carried a tool bag to help deliver three submarines and an aircraft carrier back to the fleet.

The federal hiring freeze went into effect Jan. 28, just as the shipyard planned to add 600 employees. PSNS also hasn’t been allowed to replace workers who retired or quit. A resulting mechanic shortage forced it to extend projects and change strategy, Williamson said. “Effective immediately, we are going to make an all-out effort on delivering USS John C. Stennis, USS Kentucky, USS Jimmy Carter and USS Connecticut with who we have in the command — the entire command — all trades, codes and support organizations,” Williamson told workers last week. He asked for volunteers Wednesday.

The aircraft carrier Stennis will soon begin a 14-month maintenance period, including time in dry dock. The Connecticut, a Seawolf-class fast attack submarine, is being overhauled. Repair crews have been breaking records and hitting milestones, but the project still had to be pushed out because of the worker shortage. The Trident ballistic missile submarine Kentucky is undergoing a midlife refueling of its nuclear reactor, and fast attack sub Jimmy Carter arrived Friday for a six-month maintenance and overhaul.

While the shipyard deals with too few employees, its private contractors are dying to work. On Jan. 25, the Stennis was on a Navy list of 25 ships whose maintenance periods were to be canceled as a cost-saving move. Three weeks later, it was removed from the list. Early last week, the Navy told a prime contractor there wasn’t funding for all the work, that it was being cut in half, and sent a list of the deleted items, said David Jack, president of the Puget Sound Ship Repair Association.

Aircraft carriers comprise 25 percent of regional ship repair, employing about 200 workers, Jack said. The last one — the USS Ronald Reagan — completed its maintenance and left Bremerton on March 18. The USS Nimitz is up next, way in the future, and Jack heard it could be delayed. He’s afraid without steady jobs, workers will leave.

The shipyard’s worker shortage from the hiring freeze and the contractors’ loss of work because of Navy budget problems aren’t related, but pose an odd juxtaposition. “On the one hand, the shipyard commander is desperately trying to figure out how to get things done and the contractors are out here desperate to get back to work, and somehow the Navy can’t solve the problem,” Jack said. “We would certainly love to help solve their problems for them, but I don’t think there’s money to do that. The shipyard is fighting its own demons — freezes due to sequestration.”

Kitsap Sun article




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