Lobbying helps keep
Pearl shipyard open

Hannemann uses his
Mormon connections

» Ship workers focus on raising the bar

WASHINGTON » Four congressmen, a mayor, a governor, retired admirals, business and labor leaders, and a bunch of supportive players.

That's what it took to keep Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard from being closed or downsized yesterday.


Star-Bulletin reporter Gregg K. Kakesako is in Washington, D.C., to cover the BRAC public hearing.

Their weapons: persuasion, logical arguments, relationships and maybe a bit of pleading.

Their strategy: assign key Hawaii leaders to different Base Realignment and Closure Commission members and congressional leaders.

The goal: keep Pearl Harbor off the Pentagon's list of recommended military base closures.

The intense lobbying effort paid off. BRAC members couldn't manage enough votes to include the 97-year-old shipyard in the Pentagon's list of recommended base closures yesterday. While the commission voted 5-4 to include Pearl Harbor on the list, seven votes were needed for the recommendation to pass.

"It's like winning the lottery. It feels very, very good," said Robert Lillis, whose machinists union represents about 500 of the nearly 4,300 workers at the shipyard.

Gov. Linda Lingle, who lobbied commission members in Washington, said she was happy the shipyard is safe.

"For the workers and their families, it was so important that we get this resolved now and not leave it on a list for future consideration," the Republican governor said.

It was up to Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, and the Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii to find key people to take the fight to the nation's capital. While Inouye worked his political connections, the chamber found allies among a coalition of high-level retired military, business, labor, civic and government leaders in a hurry -- soon after BRAC on July 1 suggested shifting Pearl Harbor operations to the mainland.

After that announcement, the chamber drafted former Pacific-based admirals Thomas Fargo, Ron Hays and Ron Zlatoper to head their lobbying efforts, along with J. William Cassidy, who was involved in past BRAC actions as a civilian Pentagon head. Cassidy was hired to prepare a strategy to keep Pearl Harbor open.

Some of Hawaii's leaders said key conversations with congressional leaders and BRAC commissioners may have tipped the odds in favor of Pearl Harbor.

Mayor Mufi Hannemann and Inouye credited Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) for persuading at least one commissioner to oppose the recommendation.

Hannemann said that on Monday he paid Reid a courtesy call and during the conversation mentioned that at BRAC's Monday hearing commissioner James Bilbray raised the issue that Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, which straddles the border of Maine and New Hampshire, was more efficient than Pearl Harbor.

Hannemann said he told Reid that he could be of help since Bilbray had represented Nevada.

"'Talk to him,'" Hannemann suggested. "'He's going the other way.' At that point in the conversation, the minority leader picked up the phone and called Bilbray, asking for his support."

Bilbray, a former Nevada congressman, was one of four commissioners who voted to keep Pearl Harbor off the list.

Hannemann also spoke to commissioner James Hansen, a former Utah congressman.

"It was because we belong to the same church. We are both members of the LDS (Church of the Latter Day Saints)," said Hannemann, who called Hansen on Friday before leaving for Washington. "He was very receptive. He wanted to hear my arguments. So, I just talked about national security. Everyone has talked about job loss, but I decided to focus on national security. He was very open and told me to send additional information."

Hansen also voted against adding Pearl Harbor to the list.

In the meantime, Hawaii's congressional leaders also had been assigned to different commissioners. Rep. Ed Case, D-rural Oahu-neighbor islands, said they were assigned to commissioners "based on our past experiences."

Case spoke to retired Air Force Gen. Lloyd "Fig" Newton and Bilbray. Newton is familiar with Hawaii, Asia and the Pacific. During his deliberations, he voted to include Pearl Harbor on the closure list because he "wanted to leave all options open."

Rep. Neil Abercrombie declined to say which commissioner he was assigned to contact, but he confirmed calling Hansen and Bilbray.

"The problem here was the terrible presence of politics," said Abercrombie, speaking about intense lobby efforts to keep Northeast bases open. What was important is that all of the commissioners understood the importance of Pearl Harbor, he said.

Inouye said that a private meeting with three BRAC commissioners also helped.

Monday's meeting was "very crucial ... It is one thing to say we are an important place, but when you point out all the facts involved -- not just strategic value, but things like who is going to do the repairs -- these BRAC members who have military experience realize that if you have to send submarines from Pearl Harbor to the East Coast (for) repairs, the whole crew has to go," Inouye said.

"That means they will leave their families at Pearl Harbor. That means they are gone for that, and then, they are back on the high seas for a regular deployment. That is not going to help morale.," he said.

But there are some serious issues Pearl Harbor will have to address. One of them is the efficiency of the shipyard, which was called into question by some commission members.

Ben Toyama, a Pearl Harbor labor leader, said the past few weeks were "a stunning wake-up call for us. Dan Inouye met with us and quietly told us we have to work on the efficiency issue."

Toyama said: Pearl Harbor isn't bulletproof.

Base Closure and Realignment Commission


Ship workers focus
on raising their bar

Rigger foreman Alika Cockett said a lot needs to be done to improve efficiency to keep Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard from again having to face closure.

"You have to deliver quality work on time. That's what we're going to try to work for. That's what we're working on right now," said Cockett, who has worked at the shipyard for 28 years.

"It's all about surviving because this was a near miss. It could've gone the other way," he said.

A wave of relief washed over civilian shipyard workers following the Base Realignment and Closure Commission's vote yesterday to keep Pearl Harbor off the hit list. Nearly 4,300 employees work at the shipyard, the state's largest employer with an annual payroll of $385 million.

Now, some workers and union leaders are focusing on improving productivity at the shipyard. "It's more than just a paycheck here. We have to run it like it's our own business so we can prosper for future generations," Cockett said.

Fabric worker Melissa Lamerson, 26, feared she would have lost her job at the shipyard, and more.

"I would have lost my house. I would have not been able to support my son and my family," said Lamerson, who has been working at the shipyard's sail loft for six years. "Here in Hawaii, because of the economy, it takes a dual-working family to actually survive."

In a written statement, Capt. Frank Camelio, who leads the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard, said, "This is a deliberate and ongoing process, ensuring our nation will ultimately get the best possible results. Though this has been an emotional time for all of us, we are capitalizing on our unity of purpose and are focused on the mission of keeping the fleet 'Fit to Fight.'"

Ben Toyama, western vice president of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, commended Sen. Daniel Inouye for his leadership in galvanizing the congressional delegation as well as state and business leaders.

"I think we produce a vital service for the Navy. But this process was a stunning wake-up call for the shipyard and our community in Hawaii," he said.

When Toyama first started working as a sheetmetal mechanic at Pearl Harbor in 1968, he said there were eight naval shipyards. "Now, there's four. They closed down half the capacity," he added.

Businessmen who depend on the shipyard were also relieved.

"I think what we have here in Hawaii, between the public and private sector, we have a very vibrant partnership," said Bill Clifford, president of BAE Systems' Hawaii Shipyards Inc., the largest commercial shipyard in Hawaii.

Their partnership with the Navy helped bring two foreign-flagged cruise ships -- the Tahitian Princess and the Pacific Princess -- to dock at the shipyard for the first time earlier this year for ship maintenance.

Each ship brought in 700 passengers and 300 crew members to Hawaii, generating more revenue for the state as well as work for Hawaii's tradesmen, Clifford said.

"I can't stress enough how this public-private partnership is so vital to our industry," he added.

Fred Moore, president of HSI Mechanical Inc. said their partnership with the Navy makes up 10 percent to 15 percent of the company's work and 10 percent of its profit. "To shut down Pearl Harbor would have such a negative effect," said Moore, also the president of the Building Industry Association of Hawaii.

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