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Unionized Shipyard Workers Put a Human Face on Sequestration


The automatic spending cuts that will be generated by the failure of Congressional leaders to come up with a plan to end sequestration isn’t just a theoretical, “Inside the Beltway” parlor game to the 200 unionized shipyard workers at the Portsmouth (NH) Naval Shipyard. They are expected to take a hard hit in the wages because they will be furloughed for 22 days over the next six months.

Losing four working weeks of wages in less than half a year during a time of growing economic uncertainty is a big deal to these workers.  But they aren’t taking it sitting down. Along with thousands of other workers across the nation, they are trying to educate the American public by placing a human face on their losses and by talking about the grave consequences to this country’s economic and security interests.

Efforts to promote U.S. productivity by ending gridlock will be hampered. So, too, will sealift capability. Already, some defense experts are saying that the military will be forced to reduce its naval presence in the critically important Persian Gulf region as a result.

The shipyard workers made these and other points known during a rally in late March. As several speakers pointed out, it doesn’t have to be this way.

Paul O’Connor, president of the Portsmouth Metal Trades Council at the shipyard, stated, “I’d look at waste first. I’ve worked at the shipyard for 37 years, and I know there’s waste there. We do everything we can to cut waste, but the government needs to do a better job.”

Mark MacKenzie, president of the New Hampshire AFL-CIO, said, “There’s too many people in this country who are taking advantage of cuts and loopholes that are harmful to the average working American. Once again, the average American is paying the price for the richest people in the country.”

The sad fact is that this is a problem that could have been avoided. As a spokesperson for the AFL-CIO noted, “Sequestration was created in 2011 by Congress as a last-ditch, Armageddon-like measure if members could not come up with a plan to reduce federal spending. It went into effect March 1 this year. Federal budget cuts for the remainder of fiscal year 2013, which ends Sept. 30, amount to $85 billion.” 

The cuts in federal spending were supposed to be so onerous that Congressional leaders would be forced to come up with a compromise.

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