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Newport News shipyard union to keep working after rejecting offer, but begins preparing for strike

Newport News shipyard union to keep working after rejecting offer, but begins preparing for strike

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Newport News Shipbuilding’s biggest union will keep working after rejecting a contract offer — but if further negotiations don’t result in an agreement, United Steelworkers Local 8888 is talking about what a strike would involve.

Union leaders outlined strike preparations to members Saturday, including advice on dealing with financial challenges of a walkout, available community resources and the process to be followed and decisions needed for any action, union spokesman Dwight Kirk said.

“The last strike was in ’99 — half the membership wasn’t there then,” he said.

The union and shipyard agreed to a temporary extension of the contract that expired a week ago, and a key to the Saturday meeting was to make sure members understood its terms — including pay, work conditions and rights in any disputes — remain in effect, Kirk said.

The meeting also was a chance for union members to clarify key issues they want addressed in any future contract.

Local 8888 members last week rejected a tentative contract agreement by a 1312-684 vote. The rejected deal had a 60-month term, with annual pay increases, a $2,500 bonus and improvements to pension plans.

The union represents more than 10,000 of the shipyard’s 25,000 employees.

The local was recognized in 1979, after a strike that included the violent confrontation between shipbuilders and club-swinging police now remembered by older union members as Bloody Monday.

Since then, however, the union and shipyard negotiated a series of contracts.

There’s been only one other strike, in 1999.

That lasted 17 weeks. It ended when union members accepted a 58-month contract that guaranteed at least two promotions for most workers, raise pay 23 percent and pensions 78 percent.

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