April 13, 2023

Warren Leads Massachusetts Delegation in Urging Navy Secretary to Prioritize Contracts With Unionized Shipyards Amid Concerns of Underutilization

Unionized Boston Ship Repair has Been Forced to Lay Off Workers Due to a Lack of Work

 In 2022, the White House Task Force on Worker Organizing and Empowerment Recommended the Federal Government Prioritize Contracts with Unionized Workforces

Text of Letter (pdf) 

Washington, D.C. – Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) along with Representatives Richard E. Neal (MA-01), James P. McGovern (MA-02), Congresswoman Lori Trahan (MA-03), Congressman Jake Auchincloss (MA-04), Democratic Whip Katherine Clark (MA-05), Congressman Seth Moulton (MA-06), Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07), Congressman Stephen F. Lynch (MA-08), and Congressman Bill Keating (MA-09) sent a letter to Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro expressing concerns about the Navy’s underutilization of unionized commercial shipyards, and the risk underuse of these yards poses to workers and communities in Massachusetts and across the country. In the letter, the lawmakers highlight President Biden’s commitment to empower workers and prioritize union workforces in the contracting process, and emphasize that shipyards should not be left out of this pledge. They also urge the Secretary to prioritize contracts with these shipyards, including Boston Ship Repair (BSR) in Massachusetts.

“Shipyards are critical to maintaining a robust defense industrial base, and should not be exempt from President Biden’s commitment to empower workers and prioritize unionized workforces and employers who engage cooperatively with their  unionized employees in the contracting process. We urge you to rectify your approach to awarding vessel building and repair contracts and to utilize all tools at your disposal to support organized workers,” wrote the lawmakers. 

Last year, the White House Task Force on Worker Organizing and Empowerment released recommendations on using the federal government’s purchasing power to support unionized workers  and pro-worker employers. However, representatives from a Boston Ship Repair, a unionized shipyard in Massachusetts, have reported to the lawmakers’ offices that they are not receiving enough work for vessel repair contracts, throwing hundreds of skilled union jobs into limbo.

According to representatives from BSR and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers—the union representing BSR’s workers—the Navy has consistently awarded ship repair and maintenance contracts to non-union shipyards over BSR and other union shipyards. In the last nine months, BSR bid on 17 Military Sealift Command and MARAD vessel repair contracts, but has only been awarded one. All of the other contracts went to non-union shipyards.

“A lack of consistency in the receipt of contracts harms shipyards, workers, and the surrounding community. If shipyards are unable to anticipate if or when they will receive work in a given year, they may be unable to retain their workers. At BSR, for example, workers have been laid off for over six months due to a lack of work, and with no return in sight. More broadly, the shipbuilding and repair industry contributes significantly to the state and local economy;  according to one report, the industry generates roughly $18 million annually in gross state product. Consequently, the loss of a multimillion-dollar ship repair contract impacts not only the shipyard but the local community and even the state economy.” continued the lawmakers.

Senator Warren has been an outspoken advocate for union workers’ rights and has fought to protect workers, the economy, and hardworking families:

  • In March 2023, Senators Warren and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) sent a letter to Federal Reserve Bank of New York President John C. Williams and Sodexo Group CEO Sophie Bellon to express support for the food service workers of UNITE HERE Local 100 as they began contract negotiations..
  • On January 5, 2023, Senators Warren and Representative Cori Bush (D-Mo.) wrote to the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division in support of their October proposed rule on employee status which would help reclassify potentially thousands of misclassified workers.
  • On October 5, 2022 Senators Warren, Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) blasted Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz for the company’s union-busting campaign, including its ongoing and illegal weaponization of benefits against unionizing workers. 
  • On June 16, 2022 Senators Warren and Markey and Representative Jesús G. “Chuy'' García (D-Ill.) introduced the Good Jobs for Good Airports Act, legislation that would provide airport workers with the pay, benefits, and labor standards they deserve.
  • On June 2, 2022 Senators Warren, Cory Booker (D-N.J.), and Bernie Sanders and Representatives Bush and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) wrote to Amazon’s President and CEO asking for  answers about the company’s proposed worker chat application, which reportedly would ban workers from using certain words and phrases, restricting their ability to discuss their working conditions and basic legal rights, including unionization.
  • On May 11, 2022, Senator Warren and Representatives Bush and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez  wrote Amazon’s Executive Chairman, Jeff Bezos blasting the company for its failure to answer their questions about policies that led to the collapse of an Amazon warehouse in Edwardsville, Illinois, which resulted in the death of six workers. 
  • On February 10, 2022, Senator Warren and Representatives Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), and Katie Porter (D-Calif.) announced the introduction of the Part-Time Worker Bill of Rights Act,legislation to strengthen protections for part-time workers and allow them to better balance their work schedules with personal and family needs.