Union leaders will meet Monday to set a strike date at the Nassco shipyard, an official of the Ironworkers Union said Thursday after a federal mediator failed to get the two sides to agree on a settlement in the nearly yearlong labor dispute.
"We're going to shut down that yard. . . . Our rights and our livelihoods are at stake. If they wanted a war, they got it now," said Manuel Ruiz, secretary-treasurer of the Ironworkers Union, Local 627.
The unions, which have rejected three contract proposals from the struggling National Steel & Shipbuilding Co., countered with a proposal of their own Thursday, which was rejected by company officials. Shipyard workers represented by seven unions have been working without a contract since Oct. 1.
Each Side Blames Other
Each side blamed the other for the breakdown of Thursday's talks. Ruiz called the unions' offer "a real compromise with a rock-bottom price on wages." But Fred Hallett, Nassco vice president and spokesman, termed the proposal "a take-it-or-leave-it offer from the unions."
"The offer was unacceptable because it would not allow us to be competitive with" shipbuilding companies on the Gulf and East coasts, Hallett said.
Wages are the main stumbling block in the talks. Nassco officials argue that they are losing contracts to yards in the East and on the Gulf Coast, where wages are lower. The company unilaterally imposed wage cuts in October.
Cuts Averaged 17%
Hallett said the cuts averaged about 17% for management and union workers, but some unskilled workers had their wages cut by more than 50%, from $12.05 an hour to $5.55 an hour.
"Some union members have made statements that they would rather see Nassco close than accept competitive wages. The company doesn't understand that. . . . If we're not competitive, we can't book work. And, if we can't book work, we can't offer continuous employment," Hallett said.
However, union leaders charged that management incompetence and a long history of safety problems at the yard are primarily responsible for the dwindling Navy contracts. The company reported $20 million in losses for the second quarter of 1988, blaming cost overruns on Navy repair contracts.
In addition, since 1986 Nassco has been plagued by a series of accidents that have left several workers dead and injured. The deaths and injuries have led to hundreds of citations and several thousands of dollars in fines levied by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The company has contested most of the citations and fines.
Union leaders have also charged that the company is trying to break the unions. Nassco recently declared itself an open shop.
"The company doesn't seem interested in settling. . . . They seem to be more interested in breaking the unions. We have no alternative but to strike. . . . We definitely will have a strike and close the yard down," Ruiz said.
Strike Appears Likely
Both sides said there are no more talks scheduled, and Hallett agreed that a strike is all but inevitable.
"They didn't give us a deadline, but they said that if we didn't accept their offer they would strike," Hallett said. "They're not required to give notice. They have told us they would strike at their convenience."
The shipyard now has two repair contracts with the Navy, for the destroyers Hewitt and Elliot. The company also began work in June on a $280-million Navy contract to build the AOE, a fast Navy combat support ship. Hallett said that the AOE contract includes an option for three more support ships if the current job is done to the Navy's satisfaction.
According to Hallett, Nassco employs about 2,000 workers, of whom 800 are union members. At its peak in 1980, the shipyard employed 7,600, and two years ago had about 5,000 workers, Hallett said.