With this thing looming over my head, we don't know what to expect

Mario Fernandez
Shipyard worker

Mario Fernandez studied some bills, including his car registration, on the dining table of his Waikele home yesterday. Fernandez, who specializes in computers and communications, has been considering what steps his family might take if the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard shuts down.

Losing the
American dream

A shipyard worker evaluates
the impact of a potential closure
on him and Hawaii

Eleven years ago Mario Fernandez thought he had finally achieved the American dream -- he had what he thought was a secure, good paying job at the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard, he was married and ready to start a family and had bought a home in Waikele.

Today, Fernandez, 50, one of 4,200 civilian workers at the state's largest industrial employer, faces the possibility and uncertainty that it may all change. He may even have to relocate to the mainland.

That possibility suddenly arose on July 1 when the Base Realignment and Closure commission, the federal independent panel whose mission is to examine the effectiveness of the nation's military installations, raised questions on why the Pentagon chose Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Maine over Pearl Harbor for closure.

At a Boston BRAC commission hearing last week Maine and New Hampshire political and labor leaders cited examples of Portsmouth having greater efficiency compared to Pearl Harbor.

Pearl Harbor's supporters say the shipyard here has greater strategic military value.

Fernandez, who joined the shipyard 22 years ago as a marine machinist after working for eight years as a jet engine mechanic in the Air Force, never envisioned the possibility of a Pearl Harbor closure.

He recalled that six or seven years ago there was a reduction in the labor force at the shipyard when repair orders fell off.

"But even then, I felt comfortable and secure because of my seniority," Fernandez said.

But since getting married eleven years ago, his wife, a registered nurse, decided to only work part-time to raise their two daughters.

"We made the sacrifice then," he said.

The couple bought a comfortable home in Waikele and now carry a monthly mortgage payment of $2,200 a month.

They were hoping to start one of their two daughters at a private school in Kapolei in the fall of 2006 and the second one a year later.

"That will mean tuition of $7,000 for each one of them," Fernandez said.

"With this thing looming over my head, we don't know what to expect."

And he still has a year of car payments remaining.

He estimates that at least 80 percent of his shipyard paycheck goes to mortgage payments.

"I don't have any other major expenses, except getting things for my children," Fernandez added.

Fernandez, who attended Farrington High School and Honolulu Community College before enlisting in the Air Force in 1971, said he may have to move his family to the mainland and get a job at one of the military's three other shipyards.

He doesn't think he could find a job in Hawaii's labor market that would match the nearly $55,000 he makes annually.

Fernandez also wonders what the impact of the closing of the shipyard and the loss of 4,200 jobs could mean on the real estate market. The shipyard had a payroll last year of $385 million. It has an estimated economic impact of $1 billion.

"What effect will that have on my chances to sell my house?" he asked.

The BRAC commission will meet July 19 in Washington to decide whether bases, including Pearl Harbor, should be added to the hit list. Seven of the nine commissioners would have to vote to add a base, after public hearings and base visits to Hawaii.

"This wasn't the way things were supposed to go," Fernandez. "You get married first, start a family and then go out and buy a house. That was supposed to be the ideal American dream."

| | |
E-mail to City Desk


© Honolulu Star-Bulletin -- https://archives.starbulletin.com