Northrop Grumman employees react to contract proposal

By Sylvia Hall - bio | email

PASCAGOULA, MS (WLOX) - Northrop Grumman workers got their first look at a proposed two year contract extension Monday.  The contract is a product of negotiations between labor union officials and Northrop Grumman.

"I'm all for it," said Chris Pirkel, an employee at the shipyard.

Many shipyard workers felt the holidays came early Monday, when they saw their proposed two year contract extension.

"I think it's a blessing the company decided to check the economy," said Jacqueline Hardy.

Yellow flyers told shipyard workers Monday of the proposal.  Included in the proposed deal are a $1,000 ratification bonus, two raises of up to $0.55 and no rise in the cost of health insurance over the next two years.

Union members will vote on the proposal Tuesday, December 1st.  According to the flyer, if the extension is approved, the ratification bonus will be payable December 17th of this year.  Raises of $0.55 for journeyman level workers are slated to be effective January 4th, 2010, and again March 8th, 2011.  Lower level employees are expected to receive proportionate raises.

Health insurance would also stay at the same rate over the next two years.  The proposal would extend current employee contracts until March 11th, 2012.

"This contract extension helps us maintain our production momentum as we work toward improving our financial predictability for our customer, our company and our community," said Northrop Grumman Communications Director Debbi McCallam in a statement. "It is also another example of how management and labor continue to work together to ensure we provide the best opportunities for our shipbuilders."

Electrician and union steward Johnny Barrentine hopes union workers will look beyond the proposal's surface appeal when they vote in December.  He said the big bonus could hide some long-term pay problems.

"I've been out here 24 years and we have took bonus time and time again, and that's what's put us behind hourly," said Barrentine, comparing his salary with that of other electricians. Barrentine worries new union members might look at the short-term benefits instead of the long-term ones.

"They're going to look at that $0.55 cents and that $1,000, and they're going to be going out dancing and signing for joy," Barrentine said.  "But five years from now, how are they going to feel? And that's what we have to look at is the long-run."

Most of the employees who spoke to WLOX News were also wary of an extension.  Many of them said they've been through many new contract negotiations, but they don't remember ever having an extension.  Many workers seem wary, but most were very happy with the deal.

"I'm kind of glad we're going to do something, get something out of it because no work outside the shipyard going on much," said Deneil Stork, another employee.

"It's a two year extension on me having a job," Pirkel said.  "They're going to give me a $1,000 just to approve my extension, they're not going to raise my healthcare prices, and I'm going to have a job."

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