L.B. Launches Push to Prevent Loss of Naval Shipyard Jobs

Times Staff Writer

In an effort to head off the anticipated loss of hundreds of jobs this summer at Long Beach Naval Shipyard, the City Council has agreed to mount an ambitious lobbying campaign to win congressional support for the facility.

The council voted unanimously Tuesday to begin the push, which some officials say is the first such concerted effort by city leaders to save jobs at the shipyard.

In recent years, the number of jobs at the yard have plummeted from a peak of about 8,000 during the Vietnam War to 5,500. Officials expect that the shipyard could lose another 1,300 jobs during the coming months, putting the number of employees at the lowest level since the early 1940s.

Lobby Key Leaders

Mayor Ernie Kell, in an interview Wednesday, said he plans this week to contact officials of various area cities to spark interest in the plan to "simultaneously lobby" key congressional leaders on behalf of the shipyard. The push needs to come from all local cities, Kell said, because the shipyard attracts workers from throughout the region.

The lobbying campaign will concentrate on lawmakers such as Sens. Alan Cranston (D-Calif) and Pete Wilson (R-Calif). Wilson, in particular, could prove important because he holds a key post on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Kell said.

"I think it needs to be brought to their attention so they have an idea of the importance of the Naval Shipyard to this area," Kell said. "Lobbying certainly won't hurt anything. I'm optimistic it will help."

Kell said past efforts by the city to support the shipyard have come in a "scatter-gun approach" and that the current push marks the first concerted effort to formally support the facility, which is the city's second-largest employer after Douglas Aircraft Co.

Shipyard officials agreed, saying that they are happy to see city officials work to save jobs.

"This is the first time I can remember when the city has gotten behind us in such a manner," said Frank Rodriguez, president of the Metal Trades Council, which represents about 3,000 blue-collar workers at the shipyard. "I'm sure every employee appreciates it."

The city's support will also help the shipyard if federal spending on the military grows tighter, Rodriguez said. The Long Beach facility is one of two shipyards likely to be closed if spending is cut sharply in the coming years, he said.

Downtown Group Pleased

Leaders of Downtown Long Beach Associates, the pro-business organization that pressed for a lobbying campaign, also were pleased by the council's decision.

"Anything that can be done to protect the shipyard will be appreciated," said Joseph Prevratil, chairman of the group. "If you don't try, certainly nothing will result."

The job outlook at the shipyard has been hit in recent months by the Navy's decision to have the Albert David and the O'Callahan, two destroyers originally slated for work in Long Beach, bidded out to both public and private shipyards in an effort to spur competition and cut costs.

Rodriguez said the Long Beach facility is hard pressed to match the bids of private yards because of tight federal work rules and requirements that it maintain dry-docks and other strategic facilities that are seldom used.

In addition, private yards often underbid public facilities, then raise a ship's price tag during construction or repairs, Rodriguez said. That practice, known as "low balling," has become epidemic in recent years, he said. The federal General Accounting Office, in a review of more than 100 recent ship-building contracts, indicated that private shipyards underbid the actual cost of construction 31%.

Councilman Thomas Clark, noting the practice of low balling by private firms, said city officials need to push for changes within the military procurement system so shipyard employees are not hit by frequent job cutbacks.

"Some of the practices the Navy has gotten into recently have made things difficult," Clark said. "It's a situation where there is either feast or famine, and it's simply not fair to the employees."

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