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General Dynamics announces closing of its Quincy shipyard

QUINCY, Mass. -- For generations, shipbuilding has been the way of life for thousands in Quincy, but next spring the General Dynamics Corp.'s Quincy Shipbuilding Division will shut down for good, idling 4,000 workers.

After the yard failed in recent attempts to win two critical Navy contracts, the company announced it would close the yard after four Navy vessels currently being built in Quincy are completed.

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As the first in what will be a series of layoffs until the final closing, about 220 workers were notified they would be let go today. The yard, largest employer on Massachusetts' South Shore, has no work scheduled past the spring of 1986.

The closing, which had been rumored for months, means the end of 101 years of operation on the Fore River, where more than 1,000 vessels have been built.

'We have built ships here for over a hundred years, and this is a dismal day for all of us,' shipyard Vice President and General Manager Gary Grimes told a news conference Wednesday.

'We have all worked hard to live up to our heritage of making 'Quincy-built' the best thing you can say about a ship.'

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The company and the state both pledged to expand their job placement programs. The company is now spending $10 million placing recently laid-off workers; the state has kicked in $800,000 for training programs.

Although there are no proposals for use of the shipyard, Gov. Michael Dukakis said new rapid transit cars for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority could be built there.

The governor said he is an 'optimist' about the yard's future because of 'the quality of the workers' and 'the great location of the facility.'

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., said he hopes some use can be found for the shipyard.

'We want to try to guarantee that if, in fact, nothing can be done in terms of shipbuilding -- and I don't want to give up on that yet personally -- then we have an obligation to try to make sure that we're going to really reach out in a positive way and turn this into a positive thing.'

Union officials, however, accused state officials of not doing enough to keep the yard open and vowed to fight -- even if the battle takes them to Washington.

'We certainly do not intend to take this lying down,' said Richard Piccuito, president of Local 5 of the Industrial and Shipbuilders Union. 'We're not going to be scapegoats for General Dynamics.'

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The Pentagon earlier this year accused General Dynamics of bid-rigging to win a contract to build 11 nuclear submarines and of overcharging the government on previous contracts. The company has since lost several major Navy contracts, including the two earmarked for the Quincy yard.

'General Dynamics has been under constant fire for all the wrongdoings and all the innuendos concerning money and overpayments,' Piccuito said. 'Somebody has to be a scapegoat to quiet up the politicians and keep the people happy. It is not going to be the Quincy Shipbuilding Division of General Dynamics.'

Shipbuilder Jim Henlyl, who began working at the yard when he was 18, has been there for 33 years.

'Who wants to hire a man who's 50 years old?' Henley said. 'They want kids they can train their way -- do their new type of work. Yet when you really come down to it for this type of industry, it's the old guy that really knows what's going on.'

The shipyard was closed only one other time. Bethlehem Steel, the former owners, closed it for one year in 1963 before selling it to General Dynamics for $5 billion.

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