Friday, May 2, 2008


RUNT OF THE LITTOR: News from Hawai`i Superferry (HSf) builder, Mobile Alabama-based Austal, filled the inbox today with various items of interest.

The most sadly comical was the news from Austal union organizer Swan Cleveland that “it has been reported to me from a reliable source that when they put the LCS in the water the bow thrusters leak so bad they had to flood the stern of the boat to get the bow out of the water so it could be fixed”.

Ah the competent craftsmanship of briefly-trained, non-union, reportedly $12/hour welders.

As we reported this week, according to a NY Times article Austal’s version of the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) was to be set in the water Saturday, as also detailed in one of those fluff pieces by WKRG-TV in Mobile about how great it all was with a piece called “Austal Unveils New Warship”. It contains quotes anticipating a “win” for General Dynamics and Austal to build 55 such vehicles, based, as the Times article detailed, on the design of the Superferry.

But that was minor news at Austal because on Friday it was reported on both WKRG and in the Birmingham Press Register that there was a noose hung in an Austal break room.

The article said:

Noose found in rafters at Austal Shipyard

Friday, May 02, 2008

Staff Reporter
An employee found a noose hanging from the rafters of a building Thursday morning at Austal USA's shipyard downtown, police said.

Mobile police were called to the Mobile River shipyard about 9:45 a.m. and found the noose, made of nylon rope, hanging in a break room, police spokesman Officer Eric Gallichant said.

"We completed a report for what we deem suspicious circumstances. Other than the item, there was no note. There were no other overt threats," Gallichant said.

Police officers did not take the noose as evidence, Gallichant said. He declined to identify the employee who made the emergency call.

Austal issued a statement Thursday afternoon saying it will not tolerate any offensive behavior among its employees.

"Our preliminary investigation has revealed the possibility of a personal agenda as the motivation behind this incident and does not reflect the culture that Austal has worked so hard to build,(emphasis added)" company spokesman Bill Pfister said in the statement.

The statement did not elaborate on the "personal agenda" that Pfister described.
Pfister said Austal notified the FBI about the incident.

FBI spokeswoman Angela Tobon said that the agency had not determined whether the matter warranted investigation.

Austal is being sued by a group of 22 current and former black employees who claim that company managers have participated in and condoned widespread racial discrimination.
One of those former employees, Jermaine Roberson, notified the Press-Register Thursday that the noose had been found at Austal that morning.

The lawsuit was filled in March in Mobile federal court. It claims racial discrimination at Austal is "standard operating procedure rather than a sporadic occurrence," and maintains that black employees aren't afforded the same salaries, promotions or training opportunities as white workers.

Bob Browning, Austal's president and chief executive, has insisted that his company does not discriminate or turn a blind eye to racist behavior by its employees.

Given the discrimination lawsuit, Austal statement is bizarre on the face, although perhaps only to anyone outside the deep south. What were they thinking about the obvious hate crime?

Take credit where credit is due Austal- it is exactly the culture you’re apparently trying to build.

An interview in the video version of the story at WKRG identifies Roberson, who quit and joined the discrimination suit in March, as saying “this is not the first time” a noose had been used as a threat to black employees.

For a thoroughly disgusting example of how racism is alive and well in Alabama in 2008 check out the comments at both the newspaper and TV web sites.

We also received the actual “you’re soooo fired” letter sent to Wayne Jenkins, the welder who first reported defective welds, quick-concrete-fixes of Superferry leaks and a general shoddiness during construction and recent dry-dock repairs of the Superferry.

It says

Mr. Jenkins,

This letter will inform you that your employment is terminated as of April 18, 2008 for disloyalty and disparagement based on your recent public comments on the Superferry in service in Hawai`i which you never worked on and about which you have no firsthand knowledge. You will receive information soon regarding your rights pursuant to COBRA to continue insurance coverage if you so choose at your own expense.

Jeff O’Dell
Human Resources Director

Note the letter doesn’t deny the allegations just the alligator. The question of “disloyalty”- as if it were in fact a military job- aside, it makes one wonder if reporting true facts- even if related by numerous knowledgeable coworkers- can be called “disparaging”... perhaps they meant “damning”.

According to Cleveland, Jenkins- who first told the whole story on the Katy Rose and Jimmy Trujillo radio program last month as reported here and in the Honolulu Advertiser Capitol Notebook - has landed a good union job at Goram Htg + Air.

Jenkins was one of the victims of illegal anti-union actions on the part of Austal and was reinstated with back pay recently after being fired, along with other workers, after winning an almost unheard of victory in an National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruling earlier this year.

It is unknown at this time whether Jenkins will file another unlawful termination suit.

In other less than widely reported Superferry news Ian Lind broke the story, picked up in Derrick DePledge's now defunct Honolulu Advertiser “blog” Capitol Notebook that HSf lied about their lobbying expenditure to the tune of more than a third of a million dollars but must rely on Dan Mollway’s wishy-washy, afraid-of-their-shadow Hawai`i Ethics Commission to hold hearings- and then access, if they want, a reported maximum $500 fine for not revealing how much they spent to buy the Special Act 2 Session of the Legislature.

And, for those who somehow can still doubt that there is a military connection with the Superferry, Lind has reported on a lawsuit filed against HSf Inc. by The Argent Group, the financial consultant who put together the money for the HSf. If you go to the documents in the case , you’ll find the agreement, which includes the responsibilities of Argent Group- including not only consultation and negotiations with the federal Marine Maritime Administration, all the investors and money people and the Superferry execs but- shockingly enough- “the military”.

The comments at both the newspaper and TV site on the noose hanging (be sure to see the TV video with a pic of the noose at WKRG) make the police’s “nothing to see here- what hate crime?” statements seem tame.

So glad things those days are gone. Have fun on the Show Boat- Ol’ man ree-bah...


you're all talk said...

Say, Andy, for those who somehow can still doubt that there is a military connection with the Superferry, not a single one of the documents you linked to mentioned "the military." I know you think "journalism" means feeding everyone your biased bullshit. But, come on, you have to make it at least a little bit credible. Don't you think? Otherwise everyone quickly realizes you're full of crap and then you can no longer convince anyone of your bullshit because no one will believe you anymore. See how that works?

Anonymous said...

a little bit credible? Apparently not.

Ad hominem attack against the manufacturer is not terribly relevant to whether or not it's a good idea to allow it to come to kauai. But it makes for a nice flap.

Anonymous said...

It's another strike against HSF that it has embedded itself with two rotten companies: Austal USA and Hownblower Marine.

Contrary to the strong tradition of respect for workers' rights in Hawai'i, HSF has not bothered to spare any of its apparently considerable influence to demand that its shipbuilder and its sucontractor for operations put an immediate end to the discrimination and workers' rights abuses endemic to their operations.

This is yet another signal that HSF has little intention of being or becoming the type of business that values and respects the community it intends to serve.


For more on the Hornblower Marine problem:

Andy Parx said...

All talk?- at least we can read. Go back and look through the agreement. We correct all errors of fact- we do not correct lenses or critical reading deficiencies.

Anonymous said...

You're only getting information from a few disgruntled workers at Austal. Further investigation into the allegations would show the other 1000 some employees enjoy their company, feel like fair practices are in place, and have better than average working conditions as compared to other yards.
Alas, controversy does make for a better story and keeps your paycheck coming in. It's been amazing to watch how journalism actually works knowing the full story of what's going on at Austal and seeing the untruths that's posted by someone who's never even made it close to the shipyard to investigate. Your story is heresay, not journalism. Journalists, lawyers, and politicians are all kind of the same arent' they? Spin the story for personal advantage. Happy spinning!