FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Spirited Strike at Pascagoula Shipyards

Seven thousand workers at defense company Northrop Grumman’s Pascagoula, Mississippi shipyard went on strike March 8, following their rejection of the company’s proposed contract. The strikers, members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 733, are demanding wage increases and protesting the company’s proposal to shift health care costs onto the workers.

Pascagoula was ravaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005; many strikers note that since the hurricane, their cost of living has increased dramatically.

Striker Shane Buckhalter, a pipe welder at the shipyard for the past two and a half years, said that Katrina “wiped several towns along the coastline completely off the map.” As a result, said Buckhalter, “Insurance has gone up, housing has gone up. ”
REJECTING CONCESSIONS

Nick Mariakas, an electrician at the shipyard, agreed with Buckhalter. “Since Katrina,” said Mariakas, “you can’t get housing. People raised the rents up so high-they pretty much price gouged. There’s just not a lot of houses left down here.”

Mariakas noted that some Grumman workers “are still in FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) trailers-and FEMA’s fixing to take those trailers away. We can’t live off what they’re trying to pay us.”

What the company tried to give the workers, according to Mariakas, was a four-year contract with no pay increases and increased health care costs for workers. The workers voted down this contract by 90 percent in late February.

According to Mariakas, the company came back the following week with “pretty much the exact same contract.” Though the company reduced the contract length to three years and lowered the workers’ health insurance premiums a bit, the contract offered only miniscule wage increases– $1.40 the first year, $.55 the second two years of the contract.

Given the increased cost of living and proposed health insurance cuts, by the third year of that contract, said Mariakas, workers would “barely make what we make now.”

The workers rejected the second proposal March 6 by about 90 percent and walked off the job three days later.
SPIRITED PICKETS

The strikers immediately set up pickets at the shipyard entrance. Buckhalter, on strike for the first time, said he was impressed by the spirit on the lines.

“There’s a lot of energy,” said Buckhalter. “There’s constantly people with signs, lots of people showing their support. People have drinks and grills out here-there’s folks from all the unions.”

On March 12, more than 2,000 strikers marched six miles from the shipyard into Pascagoula. Speaking to the local ABC News affiliate, pipe welder Kimberly Huckaby said, “Six miles is a lot, but maybe that will show the company we’re willing to do whatever it takes to get the money that we need.”
PROFITING FROM DISASTER

While workers in the Gulf Coast have suffered mightily since Hurricane Katrina hit, the disaster landed Northrop Grumman some extremely lucrative contracts. The U.S. Navy gave Grumman $2.7 billion to repair Katrina damage, while FEMA gave the company another $356 million.

Said Mariakas, “[The company] acts like we’re greedy. If we’re greedy, why is Grumman asking for so much money after they landed $2.7 billion? We do work for the government, but we don’t make government pay.”

Mariakas noted that there are issues at stake beyond pay and benefits. Despite the billions Grumman received to rebuild the shipyard, he said, shipyard workers often labor in hazardous conditions with inadequate protection.

“I had two heat strokes last August,” said Mariakas. “They had to carry me off the boat. When we get hurt, they stop our pay. We faint, they stop our pay.

“We got welders working with toxic smoke. People’s eyes get burnt from the reflection off the tin and sheet metal. We don’t get dental and vision coverage. We go to the doctor, we get stuck paying most of the bill.”

Mariakas continued, “If people came down here and saw the destruction that Katrina did-they wouldn’t believe it. All we’re saying is, let us have some pride and dignity. Let us try to have a little comfortable life.

“We’ll keep fighting for that until we get what’s fair. We’ll stay out as long as we have to.”

WILLIAM JOHNSON writes for Labor Notes, where this article originally appeared in Labor Notes magazine. He can be reached at: william@labornotes.org

 

 

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
April 20, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Ruling Class Operatives Say the Darndest Things: On Devils Known and Not
Conn Hallinan
The Great Game Comes to Syria
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Mother of War
Andrew Levine
“How Come?” Questions
Doug Noble
A Tale of Two Atrocities: Douma and Gaza
Kenneth Surin
The Blight of Ukania
Howard Lisnoff
How James Comey Became the Strange New Hero of the Liberals
William Blum
Anti-Empire Report: Unseen Persons
Lawrence Davidson
Missiles Over Damascus
Patrick Cockburn
The Plight of the Yazidi of Afrin
Pete Dolack
Fooled again? Trump Trade Policy Elevates Corporate Power
Stan Cox
For Climate Mobilization, Look to 1960s Vietnam Before Turning to 1940s America
William Hawes
Global Weirding
Dan Glazebrook
World War is Still in the Cards
Nick Pemberton
In Defense of Cardi B: Beyond Bourgeois PC Culture
Ishmael Reed
Hollywood’s Last Days?
Peter Certo
There Was Nothing Humanitarian About Our Strikes on Syria
Dean Baker
China’s “Currency Devaluation Game”
Ann Garrison
Why Don’t We All Vote to Commit International Crimes?
LEJ Rachell
The Baddest Black Power Artist You Never Heard Of
Lawrence Ware
All Hell Broke Out in Oklahoma
Franklin Lamb
Tehran’s Syria: Lebanon Colonization Project is Collapsing
Donny Swanson
Janus v. AFSCME: What’s It All About?
Will Podmore
Brexit and the Windrush Britons
Brian Saady
Boehner’s Marijuana Lobbying is Symptomatic of Special-Interest Problem
Julian Vigo
Google’s Delisting and Censorship of Information
Patrick Walker
Political Dynamite: Poor People’s Campaign and the Movement for a People’s Party
Fred Gardner
Medical Board to MDs: Emphasize Dangers of Marijuana
Rob Seimetz
We Must Stand In Solidarity With Eric Reid
Missy Comley Beattie
Remembering Barbara Bush
Wim Laven
Teaching Peace in a Time of Hate
Thomas Knapp
Freedom is Winning in the Encryption Arms Race
Mir Alikhan
There Won’t be Peace in Afghanistan Until There’s Peace in Kashmir
Robert Koehler
Playing War in Syria
Tamara Pearson
US Shootings: Gun Industry Killing More People Overseas
John Feffer
Trump’s Trade War is About Trump Not China
Morris Pearl
Why the Census Shouldn’t Ask About Citizenship
Ralph Nader
Bill Curry on the Move against Public Corruption
Josh Hoxie
Five Tax Myths Debunked
Leslie Mullin
Democratic Space in Adverse Times: Milestone at Haiti’s University of the Aristide Foundation
Louis Proyect
Syria and Neo-McCarthyism
Dean Baker
Finance 202 Meets Economics 101
Abel Cohen
Forget Gun Control, Try Bullet Control
Robert Fantina
“Damascus Time:” An Iranian Movie
David Yearsley
Bach and Taxes
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail