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As budget cuts loom, congressman hears Bremerton shipyard workers' concerns

BREMERTON, Wash. — Shipyard workers not only face forfeiting one work day per week, they could lose benefits and even their security clearances, they told U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer on Tuesday.

Kilmer, who’s been in Norm Dick’s former House seat for seven weeks, invited 18 labor leaders to his Norm Dicks Government Center office to share their concerns about impending federal budget problems.

Across-the-board cuts, called sequestration, will take effect March 1 if Congress can’t reach a deficit-reduction agreement. That would cost the Navy $4 billion over the last seven months of the fiscal year — Oct. 1, 2012 to Sept. 30, 2013. The Navy is being funded at 2012 levels through a continuing resolution because Congress failed to pass a 2013 budget. The Navy would lose another $4.6 billion, including $90 million for Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility, if the resolution is extended to the end of the fiscal year. The deadline is March 27.

It’s not a good way to run a Navy, the group agreed. Kilmer called sequestration “crazy.”

“I think we should be in D.C. working on solving this stuff,” said Kilmer, noting Congress is on a nine-day recess and will only have four days after members return to avoid the cuts.

“We’re facing these cuts because of the political dysfunction,” he said. “It’s bad for our national security and has real implications for our shipyard, county and businesses.”

Bob Steinmetz, president of the local International Federation of Professional & Technical Engineers, asked Kilmer to try to exempt the shipyard from furloughs. Workers would have to take 22 days without pay under sequestration.

Vicki Whitt, vice president of Bremerton Metal Trades Council, wondered how Congress can ignore national security. John Kosinski, of Boilermakers 290, said budget problems already have caused the Navy to move one aircraft carrier out of the Middle East, leaving just Bremerton-based USS John C. Stennis.

“You call for air support. Sorry, we’ve only got one carrier. You’re hosed,” he said.

Across-the-board cuts are not only nonstrategic, they’re anti-strategic, said Kilmer, a Gig Harbor Democrat.

Rick Williams, Bremerton Metal Trades Council president, said everybody at the shipyard, Bangor and Keyport must have security clearances. Financial distress, which could happen with workers losing 20 percent of their pay, is the most common reason for getting them pulled.

“This isn’t these guys’ fault for going in the hole,” he said.

Kilmer said he spoke with lawmakers Monday in Olympia about giving federal workers “wiggle room” if they get in financial straits.

Workers on temporary duty assignments can’t be paid for food, housing or travel on the days they’re furloughed. Twenty-two days off also could add up to as much as three days of leave not being accrued and a hit to retirement, they said.

Shipyard workers are leaving for other jobs because of the unsure future, Steinmetz said. A young engineer who PSNS invested three years of training is heading for a Seattle firm.

“All the younger engineers can’t afford to take a 20 percent cut in pay,” he said. “They’ll be leaving us and they’re hard to replace and it’s already happening. They’re going to feed off us and take our best people.”

Cuts now will only make shipyard work more expensive later, group members said, and for no good reason.

“A lot of folks back in Washington are more concerned about what kind of political football they can make out of this,” said Ron Harrell of the International Association of Machinists.

Kilmer, who said he’d delve into the members’ concerns, couldn’t disagree.

“Success is defined by making the other party look like a failure,” he said. “I think that gig is up, or it ought to be.”
 

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