Westport Shipyard terminates more than 300 employees due to coronavirus

Westport Shipyard terminated more than 300 employees Monday in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the termination letter signed by Westport LLC President Daryl Wakefield dated March 23, a total of 347 employees were affected by the terminations, all but essential staff.

“We regret that we will need to terminate your employment today due to unforeseeable business circumstances caused by the impact of the coronavirus,” read the letter. “We do not know the impact this pandemic is going to have on our business; it could be two weeks, two months, two years or longer. At this time, it is unknown due to the current circumstances. We will continue to re-evaluate our business needs as we monitor the progression of this pandemic keeping in mind the safety of all concerned.”

On Wednesday morning, Jennifer Swogger at Westport LLC told The Daily World that the “rumor out there that this is permanent is just that, a rumor,” saying the luxury yacht builder will continue to evaluate the situation, and it is the company’s intent to hire people back when it is safe to do so. The termination letter said impacted employees should keep in contact with the company about future openings “as business allows.”

Swogger said safety was an issue. “We were concerned about our employees’ safety and health,” she said. “We could not guarantee safe work environments because of the close proximity of our employees. We felt, at the time, because the government wasn’t being proactive, we had to be proactive for the safety of our employees.”

Swogger, whose contact information is on the termination letter, said she has fielded “quite a few phone calls from the community,” as people expressed their anger with the abrupt terminations. One who posted the letter on Facebook said her husband had worked at the shipyard for 27 years. Others were concerned about health insurance during a time of pandemic.

The termination letter said employees would be paid through March 23 and any accrued vacation pay would be included in the employees’ last check. As for health insurance, the letter said employees would “be sent a letter that outlines your rights to continue with health insurance benefits under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA).”

Wakefield ended the termination letter with, “On behalf of Westport, as well as myself personally, please accept my appreciation for your service at Westport and my sorrow for all the difficulty you and your families have suffered as a result of this pandemic that has affected our entire nation.”

Westport LLC was founded in 1964 and during that time has built a variety of commercial fishing boats, passenger ferries and motor yachts. On its website, the company said it currently builds composite motor yachts and is the largest yacht builder in North America and among the largest in the world. The Westport facility on Nyhus Street has 170,000 square feet of enclosed space.