Paul Murphy / Eyewitness News
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AVONDALE, La. -- The workforce that once topped 5,000 at the Avondale Shipyards has now dwindled to a mere 1,300 workers.

With one ship left in drydock, the west Jefferson Parish facility is now on track to close in September.

But local AFL-CIO Executive Secretary Robert 'Tiger' Hammond sees signs of possible new life at Avondale.

'As of today, I know they are still in a hiring mode, hiring more ship-fitters and welders to bring that 1,300 to maybe somewhere in the neighborhood 2,000 employees,' said Hammond. 'I'm very optimistic. At least this is a start in the right direction.'

The call-back comes at a time when owner Huntington Ingalls is seeking new manufacturing opportunities for the Avondale site.

The company announced it is in talks with respected companies in the oil and gas industry.

'Instead of shutting down the shipyard, they still have the tools, the material, the equipment to move forward and keep maybe 2,000 people employed,' said Hammond.

Metal Trades Council President Andrew Croom confirms many layoffs have now been postponed, but he said it's too soon to be optimistic about the future of Avondale.

'It sounds good in a way, but in a couple more months, those same people they postponed might be laid off,' said Croom. 'They have a lot of rumors going around the yard. If I see something on paper, then it gives me some hope.'

Tulane Energy Institute Associate Director Eric Smith said Avondale would have stiff competition for work in the energy sector.

'There are a number of sort of sea-level fabricating yards around, not the least of which is the McDermott yard in Morgan City,' said Smith. 'Here in Louisiana we have yards in New Iberia and Galliano. They also have been in the business of building these offshore facilities for some time.'

Smith also said the Avondale site, with a Mississippi River levee running though it, may not be the best location for energy related manufacturing.

'It's built along the levee,' said Smith. 'When you're building big modules for use in a petro-chemical plant or in the LNG facility, which is the one they were specifically talking about, you have to skid these on to a barge to move it. They weigh several thousand tons. It's not something you pick up with a crane and move it and slide it across. It's kind of hard to slide things when you've got a hill in the middle of your yard.'

Workers say there are confident that the skilled workforce at Avondale can quickly transition to building something other than Navy ships. But they say the decision needs to be made quickly on what that next something will be.

'We have built other things besides ships,' said Croom. 'We've built oil rigs, barges, we've built a lot of different things here, power plants. The workers want to know if they're going to stay open. They're at a cross roads now. They don't know if this place is going to stay open. All they know is they're working on a closure agreement and it's going to close.'

'Until, they dot all the I's and cross the T's, I guess we'll just have to wait and see what happens.' said Hammond.

'I think you could have a long-term redevelopment program working in cooperation with Huntington Ingalls, but it's going to be a very, very different facility and it would emerge two to three years down the road,' said Smith.

Organized labor, including the Metal Trades Council and the AFL-CIO are now working with Huntington Ingalls to negotiate a new deal for Avondale Shipyards.

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