PORTLAND

U.S. Labor Department Secretary Thomas Perez landed in Maine on Wednesday for tours with U.S. Sen. Susan Collins at Bath Iron Works and Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, focusing on apprenticeship programs Perez said are a priority of President Barack Obama’s administration.

“Apprenticeship has been a pathway to the middle class for generations in the skilled trades and increasingly in other sectors,” Perez said in an interview Wednesday.

Perez said he hopes to seek out ways in which apprenticeships BIW and the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard provide that could serve as examples that can be used in other places. That’s in line with a goal Obama set out to double the number of registered apprentices in five years, Perez said.

In January, the White House announced the federal government would put up $100 million for a new grant competition to support partnerships between employers, edu- cational institutions, unions and local governments related to work training.

That program will support about 25 grants, at a minimum of $2.5 million and maximum of $5 million.

That funding would support training programs such as those at BIW and the shipyard in Kittery, which are collaborations with local colleges to provide on-the-job training. The first round of those grants has not yet been awarded.

“I think both of these are models that the nation can learn from,” Collins told Perez during a news conference Wednesday afternoon after landing at the Portland International Jetport.

Though federal defense spending has been steadily declining, both the shipyard in Kittery and BIW plan to hire for upcoming work. Portsmouth Naval Shipyard officials said in April they plan to hire as many as 700 workers and Bath one year ago opened a training facility for new hires in a partnership with the Maine Community College System.

While the Bath shipyard continues to hire, the seas have been rough between the company and its union, with demonstrations last week that the union said were a display of solidarity in advance of the union’s contract expiration next year.

The union also has sued the company in federal court over changes to the way job roles are modified. The union alleges the company sought to modify job descriptions outside of the formal contract negotiation to take place next year.

That comes after a fight over proposals to source certain ship components from outside the shipyard, a matter that will be settled by a third party in arbitration.

Collins said Wednesday she previously expressed concern about any of that work getting shipped out to Mexico, but she has not gotten involved in specific issues in the negotiations.

“I’m confident that both sides will be able to come together with the interests of being able to compete effectively and win contracts,” Collins said.

She said the training center is one part of how the shipyard will stay competitive as it seeks to win contracts like a bid to build the next generation of Coast Guard cutters.

Company officials have made outsourcing proposals — or “make-buy decisions” — and sought out ways for employees to increase productivity with concern they will be underbid for upcoming contracts.

FOR MORE, see the Bangor Daily News at www.bangordailynews.com



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