For most people displaced by Hurricane Katrina, federal relief aid came in a slow trickle. But not for defense contractor Northrup Grumman: just over two months after the storm, Grumman received over $2.7 billion from the Navy and FEMA to rebuild Naval shipyards in Pascagoula, Mississippi.
But shipyard workers at Northrup say little of that has trickled down to them, which is why they are in their seventh day of a strike. Workers saw their homes destroyed and costs go up -- but despite the massive federal bailout, Grumman responded with cuts, as reported in Labor Notes:
Striker Shane Buckhalter, a pipe welder at the shipyard for the past two and a half years, said that Katrina "wiped several towns along the coastline completely off the map." As a result, said Buckhalter, "Insurance has gone up, housing has gone up."
Nick Mariakas, an electrician at the shipyard, agreed with Buckhalter. "Since Katrina," said Mariakas, "you can't get housing. People raised the rents up so high-they pretty much price gouged. There's just not a lot of houses left down here."
Mariakas noted that some Grumman workers "are still in FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) trailers-and FEMA's fixing to take those trailers away. We can't live off what they're trying to pay us."
What the company tried to give the workers, according to Mariakas, was a four-year contract with no pay increases and increased health care costs for workers. The workers voted down this contract by 90 percent in late February.
Shipyard work is dangerous; numerous workers reported heat strokes in the summer and welders not receiving proper equipment working in toxic smoke. The company is calling the workers greedy in asking for raises and better benefits, but Nick Mariakas puts it in perspective:
"[The company] acts like we're greedy. If we're greedy, why is Grumman asking for so much money after they landed $2.7 billion? We do work for the government, but we don't make government pay."