May 14. 2013 4:31PM

Shipyard workers won't have to take furloughs

Union Leader Correspondent

KITTERY, Maine - Workers at the nation's four public shipyards, including Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, will be excepted from furloughs, the Department of Defense announced Tuesday.

Furlough notices were scheduled to start going out this week.

The news of the exception was welcomed by shipyard staff, but Paul O'Connor, president of the Metal Trades Council at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, said it is only a short-term fix to the 10-year problem of budget cuts associated with sequestration.

O'Connor said the shipyards were excepted because it would cost more money to furlough workers and back up maintenance work on nuclear submarines than to keep them working.

"That has been our argument for months, and it was good to hear the Navy over the last couple of weeks make the same argument," O'Connor said.

U.S. Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., as well as U.S. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, D-N.H., also welcomed the Pentagon announcement Tuesday.

"We're pleased that the Department of Defense and the Navy recognize the importance of shipyard workers to our national security. This exemption should allow the workers at our four public shipyards, including Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, to continue their critical work maintaining our nation's naval readiness without interruption," the senators said in a joint statement released Tuesday afternoon.

O'Connor said shipyard workers can now breathe a little easier going into the summer. "It's good for our shipyard, good for our workforce, obviously, and good for the community, because that short-term issue is now behind us," O'Connor said.

But there are still hundreds of thousands of federal employees across the nation who will still be furloughed as a result of sequestration, which O"connor calls a "congressionally manufactured crisis," and questions about what will happen in the next nine years, as sequestration is a 10-year plan.

He said when the next fiscal year begins on Oct. 1, they will start all over again.

"Will it be furloughs, layoffs, base closures? It will be something until sequestration is ended," he said. "We will continue to let folks know this is good, it's short-term good . but we need to deal with it long-term."

He said Congress must act to end sequestration.