More layoffs ahead for shipyard despite transition to new project

Posted June 01, 2009, at 11:10 p.m.

BATH, Maine — Bath Iron Works’ top executive warned workers on Mon-day to prepare for layoffs over the summer and fall because of a long-anticipated gap in work as the ship-yard transitions to the Navy’s stealthy next-generation destroyer.

Despite efforts to minimize its impact, the workload gap will lead to an undetermined number of temporary layoffs over the next four to six months, President Jeff Geiger told workers. The announcement coincided with word of the first 67 layoffs.

The shipyard’s 5,600 workers had long expected the gap, and Geiger said the shipyard is doing all it can to reduce the number of job losses.

“Layoffs are difficult for every-one, and we will explore every available avenue to help minimize the number, including polling for voluntary layoffs, pursuing reas-signments and continuing to seek emergent work,” Geiger said in an e-mail.

He emphasized that the layoffs would be temporary. The shipyard anticipates that its work force will stabilize as work on the new de-stroyer ramps up.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said during a visit to Bath Iron Works on May 22 that the Penta-gon’s decision to build all three Zumwalt-class destroyers in Bath instead of splitting them with an-other shipyard assures plenty of work for shipbuilders for “a consid-erable number of years into the future.”

Gates said the Obama admini-stration’s proposal aims to give the Navy what it needs while bringing stability to the Navy’s shipbuilding infrastructure.

The DDG-1000 is capable of pounding a coast from more than 100 miles away with 155-mm guns, paving the way for Marines to storm the shore. They feature composite materials, an electric-drive propul-sion and an unconventional “tum-blehome” hull.

After building three Zumwalts, Bath Iron works will revert to building more of the existing line of Arleigh Burke-class destroyers. The ships also are being built at North-rop Grumman’s Ingalls shipyard in Mississippi.

Efforts to eliminate the gap go back several years.

In 2007, the Navy approved a schedule change that made Bath the lead builder of the Zumwalt, bumping up the construction date in Bath. Since then, Bath has bid on construction of Coast Guard cutters and a high-speed vessel for the Army and Marines.

Geiger said the gap could have been much worse, but he declined to attach a number to the layoffs.

“Because we continue to work on mitigating actions, I cannot accurately predict the exact size and duration of these temporary reductions,” he said.

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