Two weeks later, shipbuilding buyouts remain unclear

The deadline for “more than” 2,500 shipyard employees to accept severance is Monday (Jan. 7) yet the fate of those who decline the buyout remains unclear.

“There is nothing to share on the voluntary severance program at the moment,” said Duane Bourne, spokesman for the Newport News Shipbuilding division of Huntington Ingalls Industries.

On Dec. 17, the Newport News Shipbuilding announced a voluntary severance program for more than 2,500 people in a letter from NNS president, Jennifer Boykin.

Bourne said the company plans to hire an additional 2,500 employees this year, and when asked about the number of people who accept the voluntary severance packages, Bourne said he might be able to share something in the middle of next week.

He declined to elaborate.

WYDaily, Southside Daily’s sister publication, also reached out to Sen. Tim Kaine, D-VA, to see what he thought about shipbuilding company’s decision to offer a voluntary severance program to more than 2,500 people, and turn around and hire an additional 2,500 shipbuilders this year.

Kaine declined to comment directly on whether the buyouts made sense.

“Congress and the Department of Defense need to do a better job offering certainty to Virginia’s hardworking shipbuilders and repairers,” Kaine said. “I’m relieved that Newport News Shipbuilding was able to set up this restructuring with only voluntary buyouts, and that they’re taking precautionary measures to avoid any layoffs.”

When asked if there was oversight on the private shipbuilding company, which handles government contracts with the Navy worth hundreds of millions of taxpayers dollars, Kaine said the company has the authority to make its own decisions about offering buyouts.

“The oversight would be of the government contracts themselves,” Miryam Lipper, press secretary for Kaine wrote in an email. “Unless the voluntary buyout was somehow negatively impacting government contracts, the Committee has no oversight of their personnel policies.”

Kaine is a member of the U.S. Senate Committee of Armed Services where he serves as a ranking member of the Subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support and a member of the Subcommittee of Seapower.

On Dec. 27, Newport News Shipbuilding received cost adjustments to two existing Navy contracts: $228.8 million toward the Enterprise (CVN 80) and $11 million for the overhaul of the USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74). In total: An additional $240 million. Read more about NNS’ ongoing projects here.

The Navy will award NNS with contract for two more aircraft carriers in the Enterprise series in an effort to save money. While an official announcement with the award amount has not been released, Kaine said the following in a news release:

“I’m thrilled the Navy has decided to pursue a block buy for aircraft carriers, something I’ve been advocating to save billions in taxpayer dollars and offer more certainty to the Hampton Roads defense community. This smart move will save taxpayer dollars and help ensure the shipyards can maintain a skilled workforce to get the job done. Newport News builds the finest carriers in the world, and I know they are ready to handle this increase in work as we make progress toward the Navy’s goal of a 355-ship fleet.”

It remains unclear if these government contracts affect the buyouts and exactly how many people were offered severance.

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John Mangalonzo (john@localvoicemedia.com) is the managing editor of Local Voice Media’s Virginia papers – WYDaily (Williamsburg), Southside Daily (Virginia Beach) and HNNDaily (Hampton-Newport News). Before coming to Local Voice, John was the senior content editor of The Bellingham Herald, a McClatchy newspaper in Washington state. Previously, he served as city editor/content strategist for USA Today Network newsrooms in St. George and Cedar City, Utah. John started his professional journalism career shortly after graduating from Lyceum of The Philippines University in 1990. As a rookie reporter for a national newspaper in Manila that year, John was assigned to cover four of the most dangerous cities in Metro Manila. Later that year, John was transferred to cover the Philippine National Police and Armed Forces of the Philippines. He spent the latter part of 1990 to early 1992 embedded with troopers in the southern Philippines as they fought with communist rebels and Muslim extremists. His U.S. journalism career includes reporting and editing stints for newspapers and other media outlets in New York City, California, Texas, Iowa, Utah, Colorado and Washington state.