Tunnel section work worth $60 million


October 26, 1991|By John H. Gormley Jr. Ann Lolordo of The Sun's Metro staff contributed to this article.

Bethlehem Steel Corp.'s Sparrows Point shipyard has won a contract worth more than $60 million for the construction of tunnel sections for a highway under Boston harbor, the company confirmed yesterday.

The contract will allow the company to recall hundreds of laid-off workers. Bethlehem said yesterday that it expects the project to employ "several hundred" people for 18 months. Lonnie Vick, executive secretary of Local 33 of the Industrial Union of Marine & Shipbuilding Workers of America, said that he believes the project will mean work for about 600 of his members.

The contract represents a big victory for the yard, which has seen employment levels fluctuate dramatically because of the short-term nature of the ship repair work that is Sparrows Point's specialty.

Although employment levels have gone as high as 600 in the past month, as of yesterday there was work for fewer than 100 people, Mr. Vick said. The constant ups and downs in the workload at the yard have created great stress for workers who have been repeatedly laid off.

Since Edward W. Hopkins was laid off from the shipyard in December, the 39-year-old welder collected unemployment until his benefits ran out, worked on a state subway station and as a laborer on a state mass transit project. His last job, with a Curtis Bay shipbuilder, ended in July. Since then, he's been looking for work wherever he can find it.

"I'm looking forward to being called back with this new contract the company has landed," said Mr. Hopkins, who will celebrate 18 years with the shipyard this March. "I'm not too far down the line. I'm in reach of a callback for the first of December or January 1992. Maybe before then if some ships come in."

Harold F. Fowlkes would much rather be waiting for that recall letter than looking for a job in this economic climate. A clerk at the Bethlehem shipyard for 22 years before his layoff seven months ago, he had trouble finding work, finally landing a job at a car dealership about a month and a half ago.

"It's going to be a relief, really," he said of the prospect of returning to work. "You can start living."

David Watson, president of BethShip, Sparrows Point Yard, said winning this contract was a key part of the company's strategy.

The contract should help Bethlehem stabilize the work force, retain skilled workers and maintain a level of activity to compete effectively.

Officials of the shipbuilders' union announced last month that the company had won the contract, but company officials refused at the time to confirm the award. In a statement released yesterday, Bethlehem said a letter of intent with the prime contractor was signed Sept. 24. The company started on preliminary design work then, Mr. Watson said, while continuing to work out details of an agreement that would allow work to begin.

Bethlehem won the contract to build the tunnel sections from the prime contractor of the project, the joint venture of Morrison Knudsen/Interbeton/J. F. White. The 12 steel sections to be built by Bethlehem will be used in a three-quarter-mile-long tunnel carrying Interstate 90 under Boston Harbor.

Mr. Vick said yesterday that his members have known for a month that the contract would go to Bethlehem, and many of them were anxious to know when they might be recalled. "People are really interested in getting back to work before the Christmas holidays," he said.

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