UPDATE 1-Union approves new contract at Huntington Ingalls' New Orleans shipyard

Thu Sep 26, 2013 6:19pm EDT

Sept 26 (Reuters) - Union workers at Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc shipyard outside New Orleans on Thursday voted to approve a new collective bargaining agreement that runs through Jan. 6, 2019, the company said in a statement.

The contract, approved by members of the New Orleans Metal Trades Council and the Metal Trades Department, will help position the company's Avondale, Louisiana, facility to compete for commercial work and avert closure, the company said.

The contract, which takes effect on Jan. 6, contains "a wage and benefits package designed to be competitive in the commercial industry in which Avondale is pursuing future work," the company said.

In 2010, Huntington Ingalls announced plans to close the shipyard in 2014 unless it found other work to maintain production at the site where workers are now winding down their work on an amphibious warship for the U.S. Navy.

Huntington Ingalls has been exploring possible work in the energy infrastructure business to keep the 75-year-old Avondale site open. It says the company's work building warships and its experienced workforce put it in a good position to build a wide range of commercial industrial projects.

The site's location in the Gulf of Mexico with deepwater river access to ports worldwide as well as 33 states through the Mississippi River system should also be an advantage, according to company officials.

Chris Kastner, corporate vice president and general manager, corporate development, welcomed the five-year labor agreement and said it reflected joint efforts to keep the facility open.

"This collaboration between management and labor is another example of how we continue to work together to provide the best opportunities for our employees and at the same time better position Avondale to compete for future contracts in the commercial market," Kastner said.

Ron Ault, president of the Metal Trade Department, one of the unions that voted for the contract, welcomed approval of the new collective bargaining agreement. "We worked together on this agreement and will support Avondale in its efforts to acquire work in the commercial energy market," he said.

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