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Union pickets outside Navy base over contractor study

Waving signs and chanting "We want to work," dozens of civilian Navy employees expressed fear Wednesday afternoon that they could lose their jobs to private contractors.

"We're blessed to have our jobs, but you can't help but worry about losing them to contractors," said Larry Dykes, a Virginia Beach resident who does construction and maintenance work on piers at Norfolk Naval Station and the Little Creek Naval Amphibious Base in Virginia Beach.

"You look around, and you wonder, 'Are you next?' "

More than 60 workers who handle maintenance, transportation and environmental services at Navy installations in Hampton Roads stood outside the Norfolk Naval Station's main gate waving as military personnel and civilians departed for the day.

Their worries sprang from studies by the Naval Facilities Engineering Command, Mid-Atlantic, on whether to turn these tasks over to private contractors, said Richard Burwell of the Tidewater Virginia Federal Employees Metal Trades Council, which coordinated the demonstration and represents many of the workers.

"What's unfair is that we're forced to compete for the jobs we've been holding for several years," Burwell said as workers wearing labor-union shirts and jackets lined up along

Admiral Taussig Boulevard near Hampton Boulevard.

The Navy's studies are part of a governmentwide program that seeks to cut costs and spur efficiency by allowing private contractors to compete for certain jobs.

As part of the decision-making process, an agency must weigh the efficiency of the civilian workers who already perform those tasks.

The Naval Facilities Engineering Command's regional office said it is studying 469 civilian maintenance jobs in Hampton Roads for possible outsourcing.

In a separate study, it is looking at 390 positions that involve truck-driving and other transportation needs. The third study involves 94 jobs in environmental services, such as cleaning up hazards.

The competition between the continued use of civilian employees and using contractors is "expected to produce efficiencies and savings for the Navy, enabling limited resources to be re-programmed for other war-fighting needs," said the Naval Facilities Engineering Command, Mid-Atlantic, in an e-mailed statement Wednesday. The savings won't be known, however, until the competitive process is complete, it said.

Deciding whether to use contractors is up to a senior acquisition official in the command's headquarters, the regional office said.

In past studies of whether its civilian jobs in Hampton Roads should be turned over to contractors, the Naval Facilities Engineering Command's civilian work force prevailed. Wilson Gilbert, an electrician who performs maintenance on the Naval Station piers, said he was more concerned this time around because "there seems to be a big government push to use contractors."

"I've been here for 27 years," said Gilbert, a 53-year-old Norfolk resident. "After 27 years, who wants to start over?"


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