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'I don't think it's a Grand Canyon' | Weeks after proposal rejection, Shipbuilders union rallies for new labor agreement

USW Local 8888 represents more than 12,000 workers at Newport News Shipbuilding

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — Thursday, Newport News' Washington Avenue was loud with the sound of shipbuilders rallying in their pursuit of a new labor agreement.

The rally, outside the Dorothy tugboat at Newport News Shipbuilding, comes weeks after union members voted down a tentative labor agreement that both USW Local 8888 and Huntington Ingalls Industries (the parent company of Newport News Shipbuilding) agreed upon. 

“Overwhelmingly felt like they were betrayed and belittled, being from essential to non-important," union president Charles Spivey said.

While the union represents more than 12,000 NNS workers, less than 2,000 union members voted on the previous contract, with a nearly 2-1 vote difference for 'No'.

“I don’t think it’s a Grand Canyon," longtime NNS worker and political action chair for Local 8888 Gene Magruder said. "The effects of a work stoppage would go from San Diego to Connecticut.”

Spivey and Magruder both worked at the shipyard during the last stoppage nearly two decades ago. Spivey says right now, they're hoping to avoid a work stoppage, but preparations are being made in case negotiations come to a standstill.

“Everybody loses. This Navy, this government, customers of ours really need us. 12,000 members," Spivey said. 

Newport News Shipbuilding sent a full statement in response to Thursday's rally. Here's what they had to say:

“Newport News Shipbuilding is aware of the union leadership’s desire to conduct a rally, and recognizes employees right to express their views.

We pride ourselves with having a long, constructive relationship with our labor partners and look forward to working with them.  After the vote in November, in good faith we expressed to the union steel worker representatives that we are available and willing to continue the dialogue on the proposed contract that we both agreed upon.   We feel strongly that the contract provides the pay and benefits that the union employees desire and due to the November low-vote turnout we must increase the understanding of the contract being considered. Therefore, we recently sent letters tailored to all union employees based on their individual circumstances so they could have a clear understanding of the exact pay and specific benefits, to them and their family.  These letters outlined the positive increases in their pay, bonus, health care, time off, and pension so they can make an informed decision if they decide to vote. 

Work at the shipyard is continuing under a contract extension, and the company and the union are continuing to honor all current contract terms and conditions as we work to reach an agreement with the contract.”

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