Wednesday, April 26, 2006

No Thanks, I'll pass on the Submarine Sandwich!

From “Hunger Striker Protests Electric Boat Inspections”.

A 43-year-old Bremerton man is entering the 30th day of a hunger strike today in hopes of prompting his former employer to address his concerns about inspection procedures.

Neil "Toby" Stanley was laid off in March after spending 18 years as an inspector and painter for Electric Boat, the Navy’s primary contractor for building submarines.

What is the former EB inspector’s “beef”? Stanley says "They’re playing a paperwork game of take it from one inspector and give it to another inspector." His apparent complaint is an ethics one in that he accuses the supervisors of allowing or even encouraging inspectors to sign off on “potentially” substandard work.

The article doesn’t detail what type of inspector Neil Stanley was or if he identified any specific work as substandard as part of his complaint. It does say that Mr. Stanley was a painter before becoming an inspector and then sometime after filing the complaint was transferred back to his old job as a painter. I’d be concerned here, if say, his background was as a radiographer, pipe-fitter or even machinist, but a painter. Was he a painting inspector? I’m inclined to believe that EB doesn’t make painters inspectors of SubSafe systems, especially if that inspector goes back to being a painter.

Where is the Union in all of this? This is the kind of stuff they eat up. Groton is unionized Quonset is not; don’t know about EB in Bremerton.

Additionally having been through new construction at EB Groton and part of the Navy’s own inspection process, I saw lots of un-sat and rework orders. The Navy has the ultimate buy off on systems. Don’t know if the standard is the same for conversion work.

Electric Boat’s spokesman Bob Hamilton said that EB investigated Stanley’s ethics complaint twice, once at PSNS and once with an independent inquiry from Electric Boat’s headquarters in Groton, Conn. Both investigations found Mr. Stanley’s complaints without merit.

Not to sound callous here but Mr. Stanley has fallen on lean times lately. EB recently cut some fat at PSNS and Stanley was part of that layoff, having lost seniority with his job changes.

If his complaints are legitimate I hope he succeeds in getting attention on a problem. But, I’m a little skeptical and so far seeing this as some kind of employee verses boss food fight over paperwork and procedures. A hunger strike sounds a little extreme if no one else has come to the table with similar complaints.

The shipyard is a tough place to work full of gritty characters and after being told his complaints have no merit then loosing his job this could also be just a case of sour grapes.

Update 4/27/06: Seattle King5 News “Former worker claims sub inspections were sloppy” (h/t: TheSubReport)

I got an answer to my previous question, Mr. Stanley was a structural steel inspector which makes me take his allegations more serious. Especially if he was involved in any non-destructive testing of welds and steel quality.

Former structural steel inspector Toby Stanley says he doesn't trust the work done on the Ohio, and the work now being done on the U.S.S. Michigan, now in the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. They are receiving the same conversion performed by Electric Boat, a longtime builder of American subs.

It’s hard to tell from the editing of the interview but the following comment sounds like it’s pointed at the work preformed at PSNS in Bremerton, WA more than at Electric Boat in general.

“But submarines are a different animal, we have a different criteria we go by, and different standards that are followed,” Stanley said.

Stanley originally worked for EB in Groton, CT but moved to Bremerton three years ago.

Toby Stanley is committed to his goal of bring this issue forward, commenting: "In spite of themselves, I'm going to make them better shipbuilders."

Mr. Stanley’s hunger strike and the local Seattle media attention appears to have got the Navy’s attention. The Navy now says that Mr. Stanley's case is being overseen by the Supervisor of Shipbuilding in Groton, CT.

If there is something to Stanley's concerns the Navy being the shipbuilder's customer should be motivated to get it right.

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