BATH — On Monday Bath Iron Works, one of Maine’s largest employers, announced it will allow employees to take unpaid leave for two weeks without losing their job, but Local S6, BIW’s largest union, pushed back and demanded the shipyard give workers two weeks of paid leave.

In a written statement dated March 15, shipyard officials wrote: “We recognize that the coronavirus creates challenges for everyone and we do not want employees concerned about their job security during this difficult time.”

Chris Wiers, president of Local S6, released a statement Monday calling on the shipyard to close for two weeks and give workers full pay.

“With 8,000 workers living in all 16 counties in the state, it is critical that we contain a potential outbreak at the yard and allow these employees to follow public health guidelines to isolate themselves at home and away from the public,” wrote Wiers. “Much smaller employers in Maine have already announced that they are sending workers home with full pay during this public health emergency and a multi-billion dollar corporation like General Dynamics (BIW’s parent company) can afford to do the same.”

Shipyard employees interviewed by The Times Record on Monday vented their frustration.

“We have no control over this and I understand neither (does BIW) but they’re the ones who financially can step up and help out the people of Maine that have served them for years,” said Mark Jones, a BIW maintenance department worker of five years. “They had the chance to really make a statement that BIW is a place where Mainers can work safely and be taken care of in times of need. They dropped that ball and I don’t see them picking it up.”

RJ Clark, a BIW pipefitter working on the shipyard’s last Zumwalt-class destroyer, said he was frustrated by the options BIW gave its employees.

“People have kids and rent to pay and now daycare because all the schools are closed,” said Clark. “You can’t just not get paid.”

Clark said he thinks employees would come to work when they aren’t feeling well rather than take unpaid time off.

“The yard needs to shut down for a while,” said Clark. “There are over 6,000 people in that place. If one person has coronavirus, we’re all going to have it.”

In a separate statement to employees dated March 16, BIW leadership wrote employees can also use paid time off to take care of themselves and their families, but many employees pushed back questioning why they should be expected to use their vacation time to protect themselves from a pandemic.

“My vacation time for the year is already allocated, so I will not be taking time off for this, even if I wanted to, and that’s very frustrating,” said Andrew Knudtson, a planner at BIW.

According to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the state’s number of confirmed and presumptive positive cases of coronavirus jumped to 17 cases as of Monday. The CDC reported 764 people have tested negative as of Monday.

Worldwide, as of Monday, 168,019 people have tested positive and 6,610 people have died, according to the World Health Organization.

Gov. Janet Mills declared a civil state of emergency Sunday night, giving her administration more flexibility to marshal resources or take statewide action in response to the coronavirus.

The Portland Press Herald reported Mills issued a new set of recommendations aimed at slowing public transmission of the virus, including advising schools to stop holding on-site classes and recommending against gatherings of more than 50 people.

The CDC said the disease caused by coronavirus, COVID-19, is spread through person-to-person contact and when respiratory droplets, produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes, land in a person’s eyes, mouth or are inhaled. The disease generally causes flu-like symptoms in healthy individuals, but can result in serious or life-threatening complications in the elderly or those with serious, chronic medical conditions.

Public health officials are urging everyone to practice good hygiene – such as washing hands with soap for at least 20 seconds or using hand sanitizer as a backup – as well as keeping a 6-foot buffer between others, avoiding large gatherings and practicing “social distancing.”

While the shipyard is comprised of large indoor and outdoor areas, employees can still find themselves in tight spaces. Each day during shift changes employees flood from the shipyard’s two gates and rush onto buses and vans that take them to satellite parking lots, which are necessary due to a lack of parking near the Bath shipyard.

BIW employs 6,700 people from every county in the state. The shipyard is also planning to hire an additional 1,000 workers this year, then another 600 to 800 workers in 2021, according to Jon Mason, BIW’s director of human resources.

BIW has contracts with the Navy to produce 11 Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, the “workhorse of the Navy” in the next 10 years.

BIW did not respond to a request for comment.

The offices of Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King and Rep. Chellie Pingree did not respond to requests for comment.


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