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Strike could hit Coast economy with reduced retail spending

Ingalls, unions report progress

PASCAGOULA — Officials from Ingalls Shipbuilding and labor unions that began a strike on May 16, are meeting regularly and report making progress towards reaching a new labor agreement.

John Meese, national president of the Metal Trades Department based in Washington, D.C., said progress is being made in meetings that are being held on a daily basis.

“We’re meeting and talking, and that is always progress,” Meese said. “We will continue to meet with the intent to conclude a bargaining agreement that will be satisfactory to the employees. We’re not necessarily very close to an agreement at this time, but time and continued discussions should take care of that problem.”

Paul Palacio, commissioner, Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS), spent the week since the strike began traveling back and forth between Ingalls and the unions exchanging information and proposals.

“All of the unions are talking with the company,” Palacio said. “We’re making progress keeping the dialogue going. Proposals are being exchanged, and we are trying to come up an agreement.”

Den Knecht, Ingalls vice president for public and industrial relations, said the company was disappointed that the new labor agreements negotiated by the company and union committees were not ratified by members of some of the unions. “Two union groups, the Office Workers and the East Bank Guards, have ratified the contracts,” Knecht said.

The FMCS had requested that Ingalls and the union organizations extend the existing labor agreements on a day-to-day basis while the parties continued discussions. But members of Machinists Local 1133 started an unfair bargaining strike May 16 after the previous 39-month contract expired. The strike was honored by the company’s other unions. Eleven of the company’s 13 unions turned down the company’s contract proposal. Union members said wage increases weren’t high enough, and were largely offset by an increase in health insurance premiums.

With a low unemployment rate and a labor shortage, particularly for skilled shipyard workers, some observers said the unions appear to be in a good bargaining position. Ingalls is the largest private employer in the state.

Merchants in Jackson County are concerned about the impact of the Ingalls strike on the local economy. Previous strikes have resulted in considerable impacts to the local economy, including a drop in retail sales and a resulting reduction in sales tax revenues.

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