At Hearing, Warren Calls on Navy to Prioritize Union Shipyard Contracts, Protect Union Jobs in Defense Sector
“President Biden has made a historic commitment to empower workers by prioritizing union labor in federal contracting, and as you know, DoD is not exempt from this pledge, and should not want to be exempt from that pledge. Protecting union jobs in the defense sector is a question of national security.”
Washington, D.C. – At a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass) expressed serious concerns that the Navy is not following through on President Biden’s commitment to unions and workers by consistently passing over union shipyards for contracts.
Senator Warren noted the serious consequences of the Navy’s passing over union shipyards in favor of non-union shipyards that are already overburdened with contracts. The loss of those contracts risks the closure of shipyards, which can cost hundreds of workers their jobs and could result in future delays for crucial projects.
In response to Senator Warren’s questions, Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro committed to prioritizing giving contracts to union shipyards and protecting union jobs. “The closure of any shipyard in the United States can present a threat to the United States in terms of our ability to build our ships and maintain our national security,” Secretary Del Toro said.
Transcript: To receive testimony on the posture of the Department of the Navy in review of the Defense Authorization Request for Fiscal Year 2024 and the Future Years Defense Program
U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Services
Tuesday, April 18, 2023
Senator Elizabeth Warren: Last year, the White House released a report tasking agencies with prioritizing union shops with pro-worker employers when awarding government contracts. This includes the Department of Defense. Workers are central to the United States’ national security and the strength of our defense-industrial base.
I’m concerned that the Navy is not following through on the President’s commitment to unions and workers. For example, I’ve heard reports that the Navy is consistently passing over union shipyards for contracts and giving them to non-union shipyards instead. And some of these non-union shipyards are already at capacity, working on multiple contracts at the same time, while the docks at the union shipyards are sitting empty.
So it sounds like even though there’s plenty of work to go around, the Navy is actively choosing to ignore union shipyards, where workers generally have better wages and better protections, in favor of non-union shipyards that are already overburdened with contracts.
Secretary Del Toro, do you agree that the Navy contracts should prioritize union workers when their shipyard is ready and able to do the job?
Carlos Del Toro, Secretary of the Navy: I do, senator in accordance with all the other regulations that drive the issuance of contracts under the FAR [Federal Acquisition Regulations].
Senator Warren: Good, thank you. I agree with you on this. You know, this has serious consequences – missing out on contracts can mean closing the doors and laying off hundreds of workers, especially for smaller shipyards. And it means the next time the Navy needs a ship repaired, it’ll have to go to a non-union shipyard that’s likely already overextended, resulting in delays and threatening our ability to protect our coastline and to support our allies.
The implications of this are huge. As ongoing conflicts like the war in Ukraine and the threat of future conflicts fuel demand for weapons and other equipment, delays in completing crucial projects could leave us vulnerable when we most need security.
Secretary Del Toro, do you agree that the closure of union shipyards is a threat to the defense industrial base?
Secretary Del Toro: Senator, the closure of any shipyard in the United States can present a threat to the United States in terms of our ability to build our ships and maintain our national security. And I would be most interested in actually getting the details of those reports that you mentioned so I can validate whether they're true or, or there's other issues at play that I'm just not familiar with.
Senator Warren: Well that’s good. But we also, the good news is that the Navy still has time to change this approach. You said earlier this year that now is the time to invest in the defense workforce, and I couldn’t agree more with you on that.
Part of the solution should be taking advantage of the resources that we already have we are not using, or are not using enough, like union shipyards. And more broadly, there’s a lot the Department can do – for example, making sure contractors are properly notifying employees of their right to organize, improving contractors’ compliance with anti-union consultant disclosure forms, and ensuring that federal funds aren’t spent by contractors on union-busting.
So Secretary Del Toro, what steps will you take to ensure that the Navy is reinforcing the defense-industrial base while preserving union jobs?
Secretary Del Toro: Well, senator, I am committed to preserving union jobs, as I said earlier, and we actually have several union shipyards that are already under union labor agreements as well, too.
And my commitment to you is that I will work with my acting Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development, and Acquisition, that I hope will actually have a permanent Assistant Secretary already in place so I could actually invest more time looking into these issues and many other issues as well.
Senator Warren: Well, I appreciate it and I look forward to working with you on this.
President Biden has made a historic commitment to empower workers by prioritizing union labor in federal contracting, and as you know, DoD is not exempt from this pledge, and should not want to be exempt from that pledge.
Protecting union jobs in the defense sector is a question of national security, and I look forward to working with you to make sure the Navy can fulfill its duty to the American people.
Next Article Previous Article