Bethlehem Steel Corp.'s Sparrows Point shipyard has won a crucial contract to build tunnel sections for a highway under Boston harbor, officials for the shipbuilders' union said last night.
Murphy Thornton, president of Local 33 of the Industrial Union of Marine and Shipbuilding Workers of America, said that a company official at the yard told him late yesterday afternoon that a letter of intent with the prime contractor in the project will be signed today. "This is not gossip," he said.
The union estimates the contract will mean jobs for about 550 to 600 of its members for a year and a half to two years.
The Sparrows Point yard, which specializes in the repair of ships, has seen its employment levels gyrate wildly because of the short-term nature of the work. For example, in the last two days about 200 people have been laid off as work has neared completion on the four ships now in the yard, bringing employment down to about 250 people, the union said.
In recent months, employment has dropped to as low as 90 people. The tunnel contract should help to serve as a counterweight to the ups and downs of the repair market, providing a steady base of work.
Henry H. Von Spreckelsen, a spokesman for the company at its headquarters in Bethlehem, Pa., was unable to confirm last night that Bethlehem had been picked by the prime contractor, Morrison-Knudsen Corp., to build the tunnel sections.
Morrison Knudsen, based in Boise, Idaho, is a holding company that specializes in heavy construction.
"We have had discussions with Morrison-Knudsen," Mr. Von Spreckelsen said, "and we are hopeful the discussions will result in the award of the contract to us." But, he continued, it would be "premature" to confirm the award of a contract "until a letter of intent is signed."
Winning the tunnel contract is considered crucial for the yard. In fact, the company recently renegotiated its contract with the union a year early to help win the contract. The new pact, reached in August, expires in two years, allowing Bethlehem to give assurances that it could complete the tunnel contract without work stoppages.