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Furlough Electric Boat executives instead

General Dynamics, parent of our own Electric Boat, is blessed with obscene profits, counted in the billions, all made possible by their one big customer: we the American taxpayers.

So it always irks me when the corporate titans who run the place exhibit contempt for we the little people.

I think often of the big picture locally of this contempt, the consistent lack of community support or charitable giving by the corporation here in southeastern Connecticut. I know of pizza restaurants around here that are more generous.

But even more irksome this week was Electric Boat's announcement of monthslong furloughs for some 300 workers in the shipyard trades, what the company cynically calls "workforce fluctuations," as it transitions from one enormously profitable submarine contract to another.

The furloughs will hurt the household budgets of machinists, electricians and welders who rightly thought they were immune from such financial turmoil, working for a company with public money pumping its robust profit-making heartbeat.

I know the cost of furloughs. The Day has had a few in recent years, adjusting to changes in the industry that have brought down papers of a similar size. Unlike EB, however, we can't survive and deliver profits to shareholders on the strength of big government contracts.

The EB furloughs will ripple in the economy, too. How many of those 300 are going to step out and buy a new car in the next three months?

And Connecticut will pay, picking up the tab for those unemployment checks, all to make sure General Dynamics shareholders feel no impact from workforce fluctuations.

It's not even the numbers of the impact that are so worrisome, though, it's the principle. Certainly, sparing employees this turmoil, tolerating a little lull in the workload as you keep your talented workforce intact, would not dent the billions of dollars in profit — public money — that shareholders will scoop off the table this year.

If they are so worried about the bottom line, how about furloughs for executives? The notion that a corporation that pays its top executive $20 million a year but can't keep some shipyard trade workers busy and on the payroll through some lulls between contracts is obscene.

How about a little executive suite fluctuation? Shouldn't less work on the line mean less work in management and oversight? You could save a lot more with executive furloughs.

I also blame U.S. Rep Joseph Courtney, D-2nd District, for this insult to Connecticut. He has a lot of chits to call in, given the firehose of big new submarine contracts he has coupled to Electric Boat.

If the congressman says to EB executives you are not going to furlough hundreds of workers and put them on unemployment while I organize billions more in new contracts for your company, they should listen.

The furloughs are especially insulting to Connecticut taxpayers who have been made to lend or gift Electric Boat tens of millions of dollars in recent years for new piers, dredging and workforce education, in exchange for the promise of a stable and growing workforce.

I'm sure these furloughs don't violate the letter of those loan and grant deals, Connecticut residents subsidizing a corporation that has grown rich on public money, but it sure breaks the spirit of the deals.

The furloughs this week reminded me of a comment made in the mayoral debates in the fall, with candidate Frida Berrigan, complaining that Electric Boat is a bad civic neighbor and evoking what she called an old saying about defense contractors.

"Boeing makes planes," she said. "Raytheon makes missiles. General Dynamics makes money."

Make that at any cost, with little respect for the dignity of its loyal employees.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com

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