NEWPORT NEWS, VA. -- Newport News Shipbuilding Co. plans to recall 125 blue-collar workers to fill waterfront production and maintenance jobs.

The shipyard sent out letters Friday to those being called back. More workers may get recall notices as the need rises, the company said.

Most of those being recalled are workers in the sheet metal and machinery-installation departments, said Eddie Coppedge, president of the United Steelworkers union local at the yard.

Under the terms of a new labor agreement, workers with the most seniority will be recalled first.

The action marks the end of a general reduction in the work force at the yard through attrition and layoffs.

The shipyard imposed a hiring freeze in February 1986 and lais off 1,250 workers in November as defense contracts thinned out. About 26,000 people are employed by the shipyard, Virginia's largest private employer.

The employment level at the yard had reached a peacetime high of 30,000 workers in 1985, when it had contracts to build three nuclear-powered aircraft carriers.

The company said the recall only involves hourly employes. About 300 of those laid off were salaried employes.

Recently the yard began running advertisements for more salaried engineers, designers and analysts to work on the design of the Navy's new attack submarine program.

The recall came as good news to laid-off workers, some of whom have not been able to find new jobs.

"It will definitely give me something to look forward to," said Gary Thompson, a machinery installer. "My unemployment insurance ran out and I was hoping something would come up."