Avondale Shipyard, Northrop Grumman's sprawling West Bank shipbuilding facility, is set to close in 2013. Rolling layoffs will impact thousands of workers. Local and national campaigns fight, hope (and pray) to keep it open — and this morning, hundreds of union members, laborers, families and others joined a march and rally to help save the shipyard. (Read more in Gambit.)
Hundreds gathered at the foot of Champions Square, carrying signs representing their unions or the campaign to keep the yard open. Mayor Mitch Landrieu shook hands in the crowd before making his way to a small stage and emphasizing the importance of keeping the yard open, both for the Westwego and West Bank communities and New Orleans. "Everyone (here) helped rebuild America," he told the crowd. "Let's get to work."
Among the unions and organizations in the march were NAACP, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, AFL-CIO, United Steelworkers, and laborers, boilermakers, teachers, musicians and several other local union affiliates.
The police-escorted march began on Poydras Street outside Champions Square and made its way to the Hale Boggs Federal Building several blocks away. Jefferson Parish President John Young and labor leaders, led by the Treme Brass Band and Rev. Jim VanderWeele of New Orleans Interfaith Worker Justice, carried Save Our Shipyard banners and marched in the front. Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, and Rep. Robert Billiot, D-Westwego marched among dozens of groups following the lead.
"It's a nuclear bomb," Morrell said of the economic impact of a potential Avondale closure. "And the state doesn't have a sense of urgency."
Billiot, who served as mayor of Westwego for 18 years and now represents the district, said the closure will have a ripple effect throughout the community and cost an additional thousands of jobs.
Signs throughout the march read, "Mitch Landrieu Don't Know, Don't Care," with others substituting Landrieu for Gov. Bobby Jindal or Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson. Chants broke out: "For our families, we work hard. Help us save Avondale Shipyard."
The rally concluding the march featured several speakers, including Tiger Hammond, president of the Greater New Orleans AFL-CIO, who said if the shipyard's owners won't keep it open, "then get the hell out of the way and let someone else do it." Louisiana NAACP president Ernest Johnson called for state and federal involvement and pressure to keep the shipyard open, including federal investigations into its current owners.
U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, called closing Avondale "sinful, wrong and shameful," and was greeted with massive cheers for calling out big business prevailing over its employees. "You don't get rewarded for quitting on America," he said.
A choked up Ray Mercier, a machinist who has worked at Avondale for 37 years and is president of the local International Association of Machinists, passed the mic to his national president Tom Buffenbarger. "I know a fight when I see one," Buffenbarger said. "And we are in a fight. We are in a war. ... and we will win."
Percy Pyne, CEO of American Feeder Lines, wants to buy the shipyard for $20 million less than Northrop Grumman anticipates receiving from federal subsidies if it closes (Pyne's $250 million, versus Northrop Grumman's hoped-for $270 million). Pyne painted an even bigger picture of the shipyard's closing. "This is about saving our nation. This is about saving our way of life," he said. He also asked how many of the hundreds of people at the rally have experience working on ships, and nearly all raised their hands.
Deacon John Moore, who serves as the local president of the musician's union, closed the rally with an a capella rendition of "Many Rivers to Cross."