Aker Navy Shipyard must change its course

When a ship­build­er gladly ac­cepts a gift of $42 mil­lion in Pennsylvania tax­pay­er dol­lars to keep it­self afloat, then turns around and hires out-of-state work­ers with that wind­fall, it’s time to change course.

Re­cently, more than 200 mem­bers of Loc­al People, Loc­al Jobs, a co­ali­tion com­posed of blue-col­lar work­ing men and wo­men from the Great­er Phil­adelphia re­gion – many who reside in North­east Phil­adelphia - staged a protest rally at the Aker Phil­adelphia Shipyard to draw at­ten­tion to Aker’s shame­ful em­ploy­ment prac­tices and rampant use of out-of-state work­ers at the shipyard. The co­ali­tion flexed its polit­ic­al muscle by en­list­ing the pub­lic sup­port of U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, state Sen. Larry Farnese, state Rep. Bill Keller and City Coun­cil­men Kenyatta John­son, Jim Ken­ney and Mark Squilla.

In 2011, Aker sought and re­ceived a $42 mil­lion grant from the Com­mon­wealth of Pennsylvania.  Were it not for the $42 mil­lion gift of Pennsylvani­ans’ tax dol­lars, Aker Phil­adelphia Shipyard may not have sur­vived the eco­nom­ic rav­ages of the past five years. Pennsylvania threw Aker a fin­an­cial life­line when the com­pany was drown­ing in a sea of red ink. The 2011 part­ner­ship forged between Aker Phil­adelphia Shipyard and the com­mon­wealth was in­ten­ded to pre­serve over 1,000 shipyard jobs and 7,000 in­dir­ect jobs over the en­su­ing three years un­til the present day. The agree­ment guar­an­teed the con­struc­tion of two new oil tankers. The part­ner­ship pre­ven­ted the likely clos­ure of the yard dur­ing a lull in Jones Act ship­build­ing in the United States as a res­ult of the na­tion­al eco­nom­ic re­ces­sion. (The Jones Act is a fed­er­al law that man­dates that ships trad­ing between U.S. ports must be built in the United States).

The premise was that, as the re­ces­sion ebbed, or­ders for new Jones Act com­mer­cial ves­sels would in­crease. That premise has come to fruition, with as many as eight new ves­sels in the pro­duc­tion pipeline at Aker Phil­adelphia Shipyard. But what good is Aker’s suc­cess­ful turn­around if little to none of the eco­nom­ic spin-off is stay­ing in the state that kept the com­pany afloat in the first place? It’s not nearly enough to simply say, ‘Be thank­ful that Aker is still open.’ Re­cent news art­icles have stated that the shipyard is boom­ing. The ques­tion is boom­ing for whom? Cer­tainly not loc­al work­ers, whose fam­il­ies con­tin­ue to struggle to make ends meet.

There was an ex­pect­a­tion that Aker would show its ap­pre­ci­ation for our state’s help by hir­ing qual­i­fied, loc­al people for the shipyard’s good-pay­ing jobs, in­stead of giv­ing those jobs to less qual­i­fied, out-of-state work­ers. It’s sadly iron­ic that the taxes and salar­ies that should now be flow­ing back in­to our loc­al eco­nomy are in­stead be­ne­fit­ting oth­er states’ eco­nom­ies. Aker and its sub-con­tract­ors have turned their backs of our loc­al work­ers and awar­ded fam­ily-sus­tain­ing shipyard jobs to work­ers from Alabama, Geor­gia, Ten­ness­ee, Flor­ida and oth­er south­ern states. Take a drive through the Navy Yard, look at the work­ers’ auto li­cense plates and see for your­self. It’s as un­eth­ic­al as it is out­rageous. Loc­al People, Loc­al Jobs, along with our grow­ing del­eg­a­tion of elec­ted of­fi­cials, will con­tin­ue to ap­ply pub­lic and polit­ic­al pres­sure un­til Aker and its sub-con­tract­ors do the right thing and award these valu­able jobs to the people whose tax dol­lars saved Aker when it was on the brink of bank­ruptcy - loc­al work­ers.

Frank Keel is the spokes­man for the Loc­al People, Loc­al Jobs co­ali­tion.

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