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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, July 20, 2005

With jobs intact, goal is to do better

By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer


The relief that swept across the docks and shops of Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard yesterday quickly gave way to a new resolve by shipyard workers to do their jobs better and more efficiently.

Moments after the Base Realignment and Closure Commission voted against putting the shipyard on the list for possible closure or realignment, Matt Hamilton said he was "smiling for the first time in the last couple of weeks — it's all still sinking in."

A moment later, Hamilton — president of the Hawai'i Federal Employees Metal Trades Council, the bargaining unit for 15 labor unions — said staring at the possibility of a closure could mean positive reforms for the shipyard.

Faced with criticism that Pearl shipyard's efficiency ranked lower than Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine, Hamilton said: "People looked at us a little bit closer. It's kind of made everybody look at what they could be doing better."

Brandy Companion, a 24-year-old marine machinery apprentice mechanic, said recent meetings in her shop have focused on "looking for ways to be better than what we are right now."

"You can feel the atmosphere around the shipyard," she said. "Everybody's on their toes, everybody's trying to do their part to work harder. ... I'm sure this will all come around again and I'm sure people will be pointing at us. So we have to keep up with the bar and even surpass that."

Even before the shipyard flirted with the BRAC closure and realignment list, shipyard officials last year had formed a "process improvement department" in charge of making shipyard operations more efficient.

In the current fiscal year, the shipyard has identified more than $5 million in cost reductions, said shipyard spokesman Jason Holm.

The efforts are part of the Naval Sea Systems Command's "Lean" initiatives, or what Holm called "the term for a gradual physical and cultural transformation."

"Lean is a philosophy on how to eliminate waste and safely streamline the way we do business," Holm said.

Jim Tollefson, president of the Chamber of Commerce of Hawai'i, said worrying about the possible loss of the shipyard's estimated $1-billion-a-year economic clout "brings into focus the importance of efficiencies and economies as it relates to the military budget."

"When the political winds blow, you can't always tell which way they'll end up," Tollefson said. "But it's important to understand the role that the military plays in Hawai'i for national security and, frankly, for the economic vitality of the state."

Paul Brewbaker, Bank of Hawaii's chief economist, said that while military, civilian and political attention had been focused on the Pearl shipyard, policymakers might consider joint civilian-military uses for the shipyard.

Just as the military has turned over its future housing needs on O'ahu to private developers, Brewbaker said, it might think of relinquishing some shipyard land for public use.

Like Diamond Head, Fort DeRussy and, to a lesser extent, Kalaeloa, "It occurs to me that Pearl Harbor (shipyard) might be more valuable as a recreational or civilian harbor or a mixed-use kind of formation than an exclusively naval installation," Brewbaker said. "As you're sitting on the dock of the bay watching the tide go away, we should at least think about some of these alternatives. It frees up resources, not the least of which are land and related natural resources that have potential for civilian, commercial, recreational or other joint uses."

The exercise of reviewing operations like the Pearl shipyard's "is a good thing," he said, "as the inexorable force of the post-World War II, post-Cold War evolution of history has been pushing toward a smaller military footprint in Hawai'i, in line with the military's relentless pursuit of more efficient delivery of the services that they provide."

But some shipyard workers such as Richard Chapman — a 48-year-old journeyman shipwright — said it will be difficult to get more production out of employees.

Before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Chapman said, "things were a little bit lax."

After the attacks, he said, "everybody kicked it up a gear. We used to have time to breathe. Now we're working all the time."