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European edition, Friday, September 21, 2007

NAPLES, Italy — Italian contractors protesting the closure of the dining facility at Naval Support Activity Naples brought some base operations to a halt Thursday morning as they staged peaceful protests at both gates of the Capodichino base.

“Both sides have been cordial … but yes, it’s trying people’s patience,” said the base executive officer, Cmdr. Jeff Jackson. Essential personnel, such as health, fire and police, managed to make it to work, he said.

The Navy won’t renew the Ciao Hall contract at the Capodichino base since officials from Navy Installations Command determined too few sailors use it and costs to keep it running weren’t justified by the number of patrons.

The galley is slated to close next week. “I wasn’t expecting it to shut down the base,” said Lt. John Leitner. “I didn’t think it would be totally secure. We were just told to be careful.”

Base officials sent out an e-mail message Wednesday warning base workers of the strike and expected traffic delays. Another e-mail encouraged “calm while dealing with the situation and avoid any confrontations with the striking employees.”

American officials don’t seem to grasp the devastation that can beset a middle-age Italian who has just lost his job, said Alessandro Ceglia. In a nation plagued by unemployment, especially in the south where the jobless rate reportedly hovers around 30 percent, there’s little to no chance for 54-year-old Ceglia to find work to support his family of four, he said. “Who’s going to hire me?” he asked.

“On the 27th [of September], I will be on the street. I have debts. I have a mortgage. What am I to do? What are we all to do?” asked Ceglia, a 27-year galley contractor, his eyes brimming with tears.

The service contract — held by the Italian company The Diplomatic — expires Sept. 30, said Rick Bauer, director of acquisition for Naval Regional Contracting Detachment.

The contractor was notified in June and asked to make all necessary plans to stop service, Bauer said. Generally, Italian labor laws require businesses to find replacement jobs for displaced employees. The contractors have said The Diplomatic has failed to find replacement jobs for the 42 contractors.

A Diplomatic representative, based in Naples, could not be reached for comment.

Base security and Italian police periodically managed to shift the blockage of the morning protest. But the closure delayed the start of exams for 42 of 50 sailors taking the E-5 advancement exam. Eight sailors were no-shows, and Leitner said officials were tracking to see if the bottleneck was the cause. A make-up exam for those sailors will take place sometime in October, he said.

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