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Layoffs affect 50 at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard

A local contractor providing labor on a weekly basis at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard recently cut its shipyard staff to eight – down from an average of 60 full-time employees earlier in August.

Puget Sound Environmental said the layoff came as three major projects finished at near-simultaneous times. The three projects that ended included repairs and retrofitting work on the USS Pennsylvania, the USS Seawolf and the USS Michigan.

Rick Lopez, of Puget Sound Environmental, a Bremerton company, said the layoffs were not unexpected, and that the company was informed when work began, in March, that it would probably finish later this summer.

Lopez said the company and its staff are used to the ups and downs of contracting, but that such a large drop is still unusual.

The Bremerton company supplies “fire watch” and general labor personnel to the shipyard as a contractor, on a week-to-week basis. Fire watch personnel supervise welding, cutting, and other “hot” activities with potential for causing fires, said Lopez. Staff from the company also supervise removal and placement of lead ballast in ships, and perform other general labor jobs such as cleanup at the shipyard.

Lopez said all eight of the PSE personnel remaining at the shipyard are working on cleanup after the major projects.

Nathaniel Harper worked at Puget Sound Environmental for almost a year before the layoffs. Even when work was slow during that time, Harper said, it was enough to sustain him, usually at least twenty hours per week.

Even though the company makes it clear to their employees that work may not always be available, the only other time Harper said he was ever totally without work for more than a week was during the Christmas holiday.

“It was nothing to base a career off of, basically is what they told us,” he said. Already, Harper said, he is back looking for work, either in his old line of work, retail management, or in a warehouse.

Harper said he’d be glad to go back to work for PSE, but that he knew he couldn’t depend on it.

Peggy Barnett, business manager at Kitsap WorkSource, said that in her experience fluctuations in staffing at the shipyard were unusual. One contractor may often lay off some workers, she said, but those workers will frequently go to work at another contractor soon after the event.

Still, Barnett said, there tends to be more competition for fire watch and general labor positions because they require less experience.

As business manager at the organization, Barnett said it is her job to interface with organizations in need of workers. She said she had not heard recently from any companies looking for fire watch workers, but that she did know of some openings in general labor.

Mike Hooker, of Seattle staffing company Aerotek, which provides workers to PSNS shipyard contractors, said that he had seen a general slowdown in hiring among shipyard contractors the company deals with.

“We’re in a temporary low, but I think it’s very temporary,” said Hooker. Still, he said, “Everything is down at the moment, I’m talking all across the board.”

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