Shipbuilders Ready to Celebrate as USW Local 8888 Turns 40

United Steelworkers Local 8888 – one the major economic forces in the Commonwealth and Hampton Roads, in particular – today announced a series of events and activities to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the union, which represents more than 9,700 shipbuilders in Newport News.

USW Local 8888 President Arnold Outlaw said, “The birth and progress of this union has had a consequential impact far beyond the shipyard.”

Behind resolute black leadership, the thousands of workers at Newport News Shipbuilding & Drydock Company who voted to bring the Steelworkers union into the shipyard in 1978 broke with southern tradition and triggered a fight for recognition and respect that struck at racial and economic inequality and transformed their lives forever:

  • The first six years of the shipbuilders’ affiliation with the Steelworkers and Local 8888 resulted in more than a half-billion dollars in additional wages and benefits.
  • Over the life of the current 52-month agreement with Huntington Ingalls Industries, Local 8888 members should receive about $15,000 in new money and affordable health insurance.

Outlaw, who is the only Local 8888 president to serve three terms, said, “The tenacity of the Steelworkers in the yard and our success at the bargaining table has had a huge ripple effect on the entire community, making every family, every business, every church better off because of the presence of a strong union in Newport News.”

But Outlaw, who participated in the 1979 strike, emphatically underscored Local 8888’s 40th anniversary mantra and theme: “Nobody Gave Us Nothing!”  The company backlash to black workers leading the 1978 organizing drive was, he said, severe:  

It took more than two years for the union and the company to reach an agreement on the Steelworkers’ first contract in the yard.

“It was rough, real rough,” Outlaw recalled. “Black and white, men and women, stood together – went on strike, risking everything – paychecks, homes, even marriages – to get a strong union in the shipyard. To make a decent living, we had to win, whatever the cost.” Their cause garnered national attention, which after Coretta Scott King, widow of slain civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., endorsed the Steelworkers’ strike.

Outlaw, who is retiring in June, said the local is about to go through a critical transition:

  • More than 600 Local 8888 members have 40 or more years of service and are nearing retirement.
  • At the same time, nearly 60 percent of the membership has less than 10 years of service and half weren’t even born when Local 8888 was chartered in 1978 on September 15.

He called the emerging generation of union members “future history-makers.” But he cautioned, “They need to quickly absorb and embrace [Local] 8888’s legacy of solidarity and vigilance that’s being passed on to them, because nobody is going to give them anything, either.”

Outlaw said the 40th anniversary celebration would be more than “a stroll down memory lane by folks with bad knees.” He added, “This is a moment for us, collectively, to shed the false comfort of the status quo and open our eyes and our minds to the new faces and new technologies coming into the shipyard. If we do, then the best is yet to come for the Steelworkers and Local 8888.”

Upcoming USW Local 8888 40th Anniversary Events

February 28:  Black History Month Program
“Celebrating Local 8888 History-Makers”
4–6 p.m.
Local 8888 Union Hall
4306 Huntington Ave.
Newport News, VA 23607

March 22:  “Knocking on Labor’s Door” with author Lane Windham
4–6 p.m.
Local 8888 Union Hall
4306 Huntington Ave.
Newport News, VA 23607

April 14:  IDS Open House (Digital Shipbuilding)

June 2018:  Launch of Veterans of Steel Program

July/August 2018:  Family Fun Day “Celebrating Generations of Shipbuilders”

September 15: Local 8888 Charter Day Festivities

Press Inquiries

Media Contacts

Communications Director:
Wayne Ranick at 412-562-2444

USW@WORK (USW magazine)
Editor Jim McKay

For industry specific inquiries,
Call USW Communications at 412-562-2442

Mailing Address

United Steelworkers
Communications Department
60 Blvd. of the Allies
Pittsburgh, PA 15222