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 (April 13, 2023) – Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) joined Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Representatives Richard E. Neal (MA-01), James P. McGovern (MA-02), Lori Trahan (MA-03), Jake Auchincloss (MA-04), Democratic Whip Katherine Clark (MA-05), Seth Moulton (MA-06), Ayanna Pressley (MA-07), Stephen F. Lynch (MA-08), and Bill Keating (MA-09) in sending a letter to Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro to express their 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 Joe Biden’s commitment to empowering workers and prioritizing 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.

In the letter, the lawmakers continued, “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."