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Shipyard, Union Resume Bargaining

July 7, 1999

HAMPTON, Va. (AP) _ Newport News Shipbuilding and its striking steelworkers resumed federally mediated contract talks Wednesday, with the nation’s only builder of aircraft carriers prepared to sweeten its pension offer.

``We’re going to be pushing both parties hard″ to try to end the three-month strike, said Fred Reebals, a mediator with the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, which called the talks.

``Hopefully something can happen. No guarantees,″ Reebals said as he headed into the meeting at a Hampton hotel. ``It’s a difficult negotiation.″

Local 8888 of the United Steelworkers of America began its walkout April 5 over wages, pension and benefits. The union represents the shipyard’s 9,200 hourly production and maintenance workers_ about half the total work force.

The last round of mediated talks broke down June 3.

At the company’s annual shareholders meeting June 25, Chairman William Fricks indicated the company would be willing to modify its pension proposal.

That remained the case Wednesday, shipyard spokesman Mike Hatfield said, although he declined to discuss specifics. He would not say whether the company also would be willing to adjust its wage proposal.

``We come here with an open mind,″ Hatfield said. ``We are absolutely determined we will get a settlement sooner or later.″

Local 8888 President Arnold Outlaw said that to reach a settlement, the shipyard will have to budge on wages and health care as well as pensions.

``We’ve got a whole package we’re trying to put together,″ Outlaw said. ``I always try to be optimistic, but the company hasn’t given us a whole lot.″

Strikers on the picket lines at the shipyard agreed.

``There’s more to it than just the pension,″ said Jimmy Hall, 40, of Newport News, a 20-year shipyard worker who tests fuel and water tanks. Health insurance and wages are just as important, he said.

Hall and others said they didn’t think the new round of talks would amount to much.

``If he (Fricks) gives something, he will take something, and we’ll be back right where we started,″ said Quentin Rainey, 44, of Norfolk, a machinist with 21 years at the shipyard. ``There will be no real gain when he’s finished.″

The yard had proposed a $589 monthly pension for a 30-year employee, up from $506, while the union wanted $900.

On wages, the yard offered raises over 47 months, depending on pay grade, that it said would boost the average employee’s hourly wage of $13.50 by $2.49.

The union wants across-the-board raises of $3.70 an hour over 36 months.

With about 18,000 workers, Newport News Shipbuilding is the largest industrial employer in Virginia. The company is using workers who cross the picket lines, salaried employees and contract workers to keep running.

The strike was in its 94th day Wednesday. The last strike at the shipyard, in 1979, lasted 80 days. That dispute was over the shipyard’s refusal to recognize the Steelworkers as the workers’ union of choice.

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