Uncertainty Prevails Among Va. Shipyard Workers

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Photo of a shipyard worker at Newport News Shipbuilding  (Photo credit: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

Photo of a shipyard worker at Newport News Shipbuilding (Photo credit: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

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NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (AP) — John Faulk plans to relax and go fishing when he retires from Newport News Shipbuilding on Thursday, a day before massive automatic government spending cuts are set to take effect.

But that doesn’t mean he’s not just as worried as the shipyard’s 21,000 other employees about what might occur if a budget compromise isn’t reached.

“I hate to see anybody get laid off. A lot of people are worried about it, especially in the Tidewater area, because Newport News Shipbuilding is one of the biggest employers in the area. And it’s going to affect everybody,” Faulk said.

That uncertainty was prevalent at the shipyard on Tuesday, when President Barack Obama addressed thousands of workers in a facility where submarines are built. Obama used the backdrop at Virginia’s largest industrial employer to warn about the devastating effect that the automatic spending cuts could have on the state, particularly in its military communities.

“Over at the Norfolk Naval Station, the threat of these cuts has already forced the Navy to cancel the deployment, or delay the repair of certain aircraft carriers. One that’s currently being built might not get finished. Another carrier might not get started at all. And that hurts your bottom line. That hurts this community,” Obama said.

Newport News Shipbuilding is the sole builder of the nation’s aircraft carriers and is also responsible for refueling and overhauling them once in their 50-year lifespan. Due to budget uncertainty, the Navy has delayed the overhaul of the USS Abraham Lincoln at the shipyard.

Huntington Ingalls Industries, Newport News Shipbuilding’s parent company, hasn’t said what impact the cuts could have on employment.

Huntington Ingalls CEO and President Michael Petters said there are too many potential scenarios to know for sure what might happen. He said he’s more concerned about Congress’ inability to pass a 2013 budget than the automatic spending cuts set to take place Friday.

“We have always felt that the work that we have under contract would not be directly affected by the act of sequestration,” Petters said. “Extending the (continuing resolution) has a big effect, because that’s basically saying we’re not going to do the starts in ’13 that we’re supposed to. We’ve got a lot of starts. We’ve got destroyers in Pascagoula that would be starting in FY 13 … The Kennedy is supposed to start this year and then the next flight of submarines starts next year.”

Petters said the company had planned to hire between 10,000 and 15,000 workers over the next five years, but that’s being ‘throttled back’ as a result of the budget uncertainty.

His are also scaling back expenditures in their personal lives.

“You have to cut back. You can’t spend like you normally would with everything that could happen, so you have to save,” said James Jackson, a machinist who works on submarines at the shipyard. “Maybe I wouldn’t buy as many clothes or materialistic things. I would just try to take care of the essential needs like your main bills.”

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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