BAE's Norfolk Shipyard Laying Off 650 Employees in November

Norfolk Naval Shipyard

NORFOLK -- BAE Systems' Norfolk shipyard announced Monday that it plans to lay off 650 of its employees, effective Nov. 20.

Because the company has yet to determine which workers will be affected, it sent state-required warnings -- triggered by the size of the reduction -- to all 1,500 of its workers at the yard, stating that their jobs may be on the line.

"Over the next few weeks, leading up to Nov. 20, we will identify the specific people who will be departing based upon the work and the skills that we need to do that work," Karl Johnson, a BAE spokesman, said Monday.

Carole Bowen recently turned 69 and today is celebrating her 35th anniversary as a welder at BAE and, before that, at a predecessor, Norshipco.

Asked about the mood among employees after being warned of the layoffs, Bowen said "there was some cause for concern," particularly because of the effective date.

"It's just before all the holidays at the end of the year," she said. "That's kind of upsetting."

Bowen said she thought some employees "might start looking for employment elsewhere."

The layoffs are driven by a drop in the number of surface-combatant ships -- destroyers, cruisers and amphibious-assault ships -- homeported in Hampton Roads, as well as a delay in modernization programs in which BAE would have been a key participant, Johnson said.

In 2012, there were 70 surface-combatant vessels in Norfolk, Johnson said. There will be 51 as of Jan. 1.

The reality is that there isn't enough work for BAE's workforce to do, Johnson said. He added that BAE is in the process of expanding its facilities in San Diego in anticipation of more work on the West Coast.

Cmdr. William Marks, a Navy spokesman, said late Monday afternoon that he was unable to provide details about the matter.

Bill Crow, president of the Virginia Ship Repair Association, a regional trade group based in Norfolk, said the industry was prepared for work levels in the area to drop.

In the past several years, Hampton Roads' ship-repair yards were "extremely well-loaded and have worked to and above capacity," Crow said.

"Based on the workload forecast the Navy had, we did know that, or it appeared as though, there was going to be somewhat of a downturn in the amount of work that would be required in the port," he added.

The stability of the workload recently has helped the industry recruit and train more skilled workers such as welders and electricians, which it needs as a large portion of the shipyard workforce nears retirement.

Layoffs like those at BAE are a big concern because workers will migrate to other areas or other industries, depriving shipyards of the "talented, trained and technically certified workers that we've put into the workforce over the last three years," Crow said.

Johnson said he could not break down how the layoffs at BAE would be split among managerial and administrative positions and union jobs. There might be situations, because of a collective-bargaining agreement affecting union workers, where "the job may go away, but the person may transfer to a different position."

For those in managerial or administrative jobs who are cut, "it will be a permanent layoff on Nov. 20," Johnson said.

The scope of the reductions reaches beyond 650 full-time workers at BAE's Norfolk yard. The company is also cutting 200 of its 800 workers at two locations in the Jacksonville, Fla., area, including Mayport Naval Station.

"Those layoffs have started and will continue through the end of the year," Johnson said.

The cuts in Florida are tied to a drop-off in BAE's commercial ship-repair and shipbuilding operations there.

In Norfolk and Jacksonville, cuts also will include a large number of the temporary workforce -- employees who handle fill-in work on an as-needed basis and are available to meet workload surges.

By the end of the year, 300 of the 350 temporary workers in BAE's Norfolk yard will be gone; of the 150 working in Jacksonville, 100 will leave.

BAE's announcement comes a week after Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc.'s Newport News Shipbuilding laid off 480 salaried workers; another 1,000 or so may be cut in 2016.

"BAE Systems greatly appreciates the hard work and dedication of the employees who are impacted by this difficult decision," the company said.

BAE runs seven full-service shipyards in Alabama, Florida, California, Virginia and Hawaii, and has a total workforce of about 5,000.

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