Chris Wiers, president of Local S6, Bath Iron Works’ largest union, on Tuesday urged the Bath shipyard to close for two weeks and grant each worker paid leave. Wiers said if BIW doesn’t close like schools and other employers, the state will “reap the reward of death and sickness.” Kathleen O’Brien / The Times Record

BATH — The presidents of two of the largest unions at Bath Iron Works on Tuesday called on the company to close and give employees paid leave for two weeks to protect the company’s 8,000 workers from coronavirus, but the Bath shipyard echoed its plan to remain open.

On Monday, BIW announced it would allow employees to take unpaid leave during the 2-week period of March 16-27 without losing their job, but union officials pushed back, demanding paid leave for all employees.

“BIW has the opportunity to set the standards for employee worth,” said Chris Wiers, president of Local S6. “We’re looking for them to step up and do the right thing — send the employees home, pay them and slow the spread of coronavirus.”

Matt Schlobohm, executive director of Maine AFL-CIO, said BIW’s 8,000 workers come from all 16 counties. Those workers come into contact with upwards of 100,000 people when they leave the shipyard’s gates, meaning if coronavirus reaches BIW, it increases the spread across the entire state.

“Large amounts of workers commute to BIW by van or bus each day,” union leaders wrote in a joint statement Monday. “Social distancing isn’t much of an option as we are now seeing this virus already starting to spread in the State of Maine.”

Wiers said Bo-mar, a Brunswick-based transportation service BIW uses to shuttle workers to and from satellite lots, stopped operation for two weeks due to the threat of spreading coronavirus. BIW issued a notice to workers instructing them to park in designated overflow lots throughout Bath.

Aside from closing the shipyard for public health and safety reasons, union leaders stressed the importance of two weeks’ pay to the workers.

“(These) employees having no paycheck for two weeks would put an even greater strain on our Maine economy,” said Jessica Chubbuck-Goodwin, Local S7 president. “It could take months for some families to recover from the impact that just two unpaid weeks would have.”

In a statement Tuesday, BIW representatives wrote the shipyard remains open so the company can stay on schedule and meet the needs of the Department of Defense.

Bath Iron Works is one of two shipyards in the U.S. that builds Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, the other being BIW’s Mississippi competitor, Ingalls Shipbuilding. Bath’s most recent destroyer, the future USS Daniel Inouye, was christened in June making it the 37th ship of its class to be built by the shipyard.

The Bath shipyard has ongoing contracts with the Navy for 11 destroyers, some of which are under construction.

“Neither the Department of Defense nor the Navy has directed us to stop work or otherwise relieved us from our contract or schedule requirements,” wrote BIW leadership. “We have also taken measures to ensure the employment security of our employees should they be unable to work or choose not to work.”

David Hench, BIW’s communications representative, declined to comment Tuesday.

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.

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 for 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.”

Capt. Daniel Ettlich, 86th shipyard commander at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, told workers in a Monday Facebook post that a coronavirus response team is monitoring the situation, but did not announce the Kittery shipyard would be closing because of the virus.

Likewise, General Dynamics Weapons Systems in Saco and Pratt and Whitney, a Connecticut-based aircraft engine manufacturer, have not made moves to stop production.

Leadership from General Dynamics Electric Boat in Rhode Island announced Sunday all facilities are remaining open after several employees were tested for coronavirus but all tests came back negative.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 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.

Maine health officials reported 32 coronavirus cases in the state on Tuesday, nearly doubling since Monday as the virus is detected in more parts of Maine.

Public health officials are urging everyone to practice good hygiene – 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.”

Schlobohm said there is one BIW employee who is in quarantine after traveling to New York to visit an ailing relative, but there have been no confirmed cases of coronavirus to come out of the shipyard.

There were more than 4,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the U.S. and 75 deaths as of Tuesday, according to the CDC.

Comments are not available on this story.