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Huntington Ingalls Rolls Back Vaccine Mandate for its Shipyard Workers

vaccine mandate
Riggers at HII's Ingalls Shipbuilding move a sonar dome section for a new Arleigh Burke-class destroyer (HII)

Published Nov 21, 2021 4:48 PM by The Maritime Executive

Huntington Ingalls Industries, the owner of Newport News Shipbuilding and Ingalls Shipbuilding, has reached an agreement with its U.S. Navy customer to suspend a planned vaccine mandate for its shipyard workforce. The agreement follows the Biden administration's decision to suspend a planned vaccine mandate for companies with more than 100 employees. 

Previously, HII had planned to require all of its workers to get vaccinated by January 4, 2022, in alignment with guidance from the U.S. Navy. That guidance has now changed, and on-site HII workers and subcontractors do not need to get the vaccine in order to keep their employment. HII workers who have already made plans to retire or quit because of the company's vaccine mandate have been invited to rethink their decision. 

“Our Navy contracts with Newport News Shipbuilding do not include a vaccine mandate requirement at this time," said NNS President Jennifer Boykin in a statement. "This recent information is different from what we understood to be the government’s and the Navy’s intent."

Employees are still encouraged to get vaccinated, and an on-site vaccination station will still be in operation through the holidays. The company's mask requirements and in-person gathering limitations remain in place. 

"I want everyone to know that we have aggressively pushed for clarity around the intent and administration of this mandate to provide our employees with the most accurate and up to date information. This guidance continues to evolve and is subject to further change," said Boykin. 

Strike warnings

The move comes as Newport News enters contract renewal negotiations with its largest union, United Steelworkers Local 8888. The union has rejected the yard's latest contract offer, and while its members are continuing to work under the terms of an expired contract, its leadership is beginning preparations for a walkout. 

HII's latest five-year offer includes regular pay increases, an improvement to pension plans - a rare concession - and a one-time $2,500 bonus. 

The union represents 10,000 out of the yard's 25,000 workers. It last went on strike in 1999, when its members walked out for more than four months. In that successful industrial action, Local 8888 won a raise of nearly 25 percent and came close to doubling its members' pension benefits.