New Kesselring contractor plans to retain most current workers

The new nuclear reactor maintenance contractor at the Kesselring naval training site expects its wor

The new nuclear reactor maintenance contractor at the Kesselring naval training site expects its work force to be about the same size as current contractor Electric Boat, which has 165 employees at the site, a senior company official said Tuesday.

“I think it’s going to be very similar,” said Barry Fletcher, vice president of nuclear engineering at Newport News Shipbuilding.

While Electric Boat announced it will be eliminating 165 jobs after losing the contract, Newport News Shipbuilding hopes to retain much of the existing work force, Fletcher said. The company will be explaining its plans to workers starting next week.

Newport News, a division of Huntington Ingalls Industries of Newport News, Va., announced last Friday that Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory has awarded it a five-year, $195 million contract for maintenance of the Kesselring site’s two small nuclear training reactors, effective Jan. 1.

At the same time, Electric Boat, a division of defense contractor General Dynamics, filed paperwork with the state Department of Labor saying it will eliminate 165 jobs at Kesselring, where it has done the reactor maintenance for the last 24 years.

“Affected employees — 92 salaried and 73 hourly — will be provided with transition services by Electric Boat and the New York state Department of Labor,” said Robert A. Hamilton, a spokesman for Electric Boat, which is based in Groton, Conn.

“We are seeking to match anyone affected by the West Milton closure with jobs that are available at our other locations, and will place as many people as we can,” Hamilton said.

However, Newport News Shipbuilding will try to keep many of the people already working at Kesselring.

“We will start Oct. 11 with a transition to assess the actual scope of work,” Fletcher said Tuesday. “Our intention is we would like the existing work force to consider and communicate with us regarding future employment.” He said meetings will be held for the current employees.

“We think it’s very important to have open dialogue. We understand transitions can be difficult, and we want to minimize that,” he said. Fletcher said existing union contracts will be honored, and new employees “will be treated as though they were Newport News employees all along.”

The maintenance work at Kesselring can involve refueling the reactors, and testing and replacing pumps, valves and other equipment. The maintenance contractor isn’t directly involved in the training activities done by the U.S. Navy and KAPL personnel.

The Kesselring site, located on 3,900 acres in West Milton and Galway, trains sailors to operate nuclear-powered submarines and aircraft carriers.

Fletcher said Newport News Shipbuilding does most of the on-board nuclear reactor maintenance for the Navy’s fleet, including having maintained the reactor on the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise since 1958.

“This is an identical role,” he said.

Kesselring is operated by Niskayuna-based Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory, which is a division of Bechtel Marine Propulsion Corp. About 2,700 people work at either the Niskayuna or West Milton sites.

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