September 19, 2019

Hundreds laid off at Portsmouth

KITTERY — The northern New England economy took another hit Friday as the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard laid off 486 workers because of a decline in work repairing submarines.

“I’m angry and frustrated,” said John Hodgdon, 26, a nuclear machinist who lost his job after six years at the shipyard.

“Basically, the stress is putting me into the hospital,” added Hodgdon, who said he was diagnosed last week as suffering from a peptic ulcer. He said his wife, Terri, will have to go to work full-time while he searches for a new job.

The threat of layoffs had hung over the shipyard along the Maine-New Hampshire border since last spring, when officials first estimated that as many as 2,500 workers would lose their jobs because of reductions in defense spending.

But that number was whittled down by early retirements, job transfers, attrition and a larger amount of work than shipyard officials had anticipated.

On Feb. 1, 617 workers were given notices they would be laid off, effective Friday, and 673 were transferred to equal- or lower-paying jobs. Since then, some of those workers were spared by additional early retirements and transfers.

Mary Anne Mascianica, the shipyard’s spokeswoman, said that 486 workers were laid off at the end of their shifts Friday. She said 88 workers took early retirement and 434 people transferred to other jobs in the shipyard.

“Any reduction-in-force is unfortunate,” she said. “We have tried to temper the adverse impact by providing extensive counseling, job skills training and outplacement.”

Of the people laid off, 201 were full-time employees and 285 were on-call workers, who worked whenever the shipyard needed them, Mascianica said.

She said shipyard officials don’t envision any more layoffs.

“This is it. As it stands right now, they do not anticipate any more,” she said.

About half of the estimated 7,900 workers at the shipyard are from Maine. Most of the rest are from New Hampshire, and a few are from Massachusetts.

The laid-off workers face a difficult search for new jobs that might equal the average yearly salary of $25,000 they made repairing submarines for the Navy.

“The knowing was not really as bad as the not knowing,” said Del Roberts, president of Local 4 of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers. “At least then people could try to get their lives together.”

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