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The Bethlehem Shipyard - the People
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Learn about the Port experience and the people who worked at this facility.

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Lowering large equipment onto a ship

Since it opened in the early 20th century, the shipyard at Berth 240 employed anywhere from 1,500 to 5,000 employees at any one time to build and repair vessels. The workers who came to the shipyard were (and continue to be) dedicated and loyal employees and have always enjoyed a strong comradery. Over the years, many came from the Navy or from nearby shipyards, including those at the Port. A core of workers continuously remained at Berth 240, and additional laborers moved freely from shipyard to shipyard, depending on where work was available. Once they found work at the Port, shipyard laborers tended to stay in the Port area because all shipyards offered similar hours, wages, and benefits. In recent years, the Port employed more workers from countries such as Croatia, Mexico, and even Cuba.

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Shipfitters, painters, electricians, pipefitters, sheet-metal workers, stage riggers, and carpenters work on the various ships that enter Berth 240. Shipfitters perform heavy structural work that involves welding, burning, and fabricating. Painters sandblast and paint the ship or any parts of the ship. Electricians work on the electrical overhaul of a vessel, and pipefitters install pipes for the ship. Sheet-metal workers complete the lighter type of structural work. Stage riggers are involved in staging, and carpenters complete the woodwork on the ship.

Some of the jobs at the shipyard require formal training (e.g., welders), but many of the tasks are learned through an informal apprenticeship program. Under this program, seasoned laborers teach new employees important trades.

At the start of a typical modern workday, laborers gather together to receive their work assignments. Then, they go to the area of the shipyard where they are needed to work on their contracted tasks. Laborers work around the clock and often 7 days a week to complete the job. As with all ship repair, time is of the essence, because the customers generally need their vessels returned quickly. Shipyard laborers work on ships of a variety of sizes, from the smallest tuna boat to the largest tanker.

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