300 Electric Boat employees temporarily out of work during dip in submarine production

Groton — Electric Boat is furloughing about 300 trades employees, half of whom work in Connecticut, as the company experiences a dip in submarine production.

EB spokeswoman Liz Power attributed the furloughs to a normal transition in work, as the company finishes building current attack submarines under construction and prepares to build new ones. The Navy buys submarines in groups known as blocks and recently signed a contract with EB for the next block, known as Block V, to build a minimum of nine submarines over the next five years.

The result is "workforce fluctuations" at EB's Groton and Quonset Point, R.I., facilities, Power said. Late last year, EB and Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia, which together build attack submarines, with support from the Navy, revised their master, multiyear schedule. That resulted in shifts in scheduled work and lower demand for workers in several parts of the organization, she said.

"Every effort will be made to find volunteers willing to furlough for the time periods identified. If this is not possible, selections will be made based on seniority," Power said. "We worked with the Navy, Newport News and our supply network to find work assignments for some skilled tradespeople, reducing the overall number of employees to be furloughed."

Those being furloughed include shipfitters, machinists, electricians, welders and painters. They are being furloughed in phases, with some already temporarily out of work, and are being given a date range of when they can expect to return to work. The company will call them back sooner if needed, Power said.  All affected are expected to be back at work by mid-2020.

"We know these actions can be disruptive to our workers and their families, and we are doing what we can to minimize the scope and duration of these furloughs," Power said. "While on furlough, these employees continue to receive their EB medical, dental and other benefits."

The employees also are eligible for unemployment benefits, she said.

Meanwhile, the company still is preparing for an influx of work in the future, prompting the need for thousands of new workers. Power said EB plans to hire 8,000 new employees over the next five years to carry out production of attack submarines and ballistic missile submarines simultaneously.

"This is all part of our continued expansion of our skilled workforce and significant investment in our facilities to enable to continue construction of the world's most capable submarines," she said.

U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, said he's been on "speed dial" with EB and Navy officials to see if some of the furloughed employees could work at the Navy's public shipyards in the interim, which are backlogged and have been delayed in completing submarine maintenance jobs.

"We should try to exhaust every possibility like that," Courtney said.

j.bergman@theday.com

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