BATH — In the midst of weeks-long contract negotiations, Local S6 of the Machinists Union, the largest union at Bath Iron Works, announced Monday it is rejecting the company’s proposal to continue giving work to subcontractors and is prepared to strike.

In a statement released Monday, union officials wrote that BIW’s requests would “not only create a workforce of poorly paid subcontractors but also force more than 1,200 mechanics with over 30 years of service into early retirement, taking with them a vast amount of shipbuilding knowledge and expertise.”

“In the last four and a half years, this company has taken away contractual benefits and frozen pay increases while raking in massive public subsidies from the taxpayers,” wrote Chris Wiers, president of Local S6, which represents 4,300 of the shipyard’s 6,700 employees. “Some of our members have gone 12 years without pay increases. Workers should not pay the price for poor management decisions.”

Prior to the start of negotiations between the company and the union on May 26, Wiers told the Times Record the union is focused on negotiating annual wage increases for its members, but the shipyard’s primary concern is getting back on schedule amid a pandemic.

“If BIW doesn’t cease its union-busting tactics and come back to the table with a suitable offer, our membership will likely have no other option but to strike,” Weirs wrote. “The last thing we want is a strike, but we are prepared to do so if needed.”

A video posted on the Maine American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations’ Facebook page shows a group of Local S6 union members hitting pieces of metal and yelling “strike” outside a shipyard building.

Victor Linkovich, an electrician at BIW, reported several union members have been creating noise by hammering scrap metal for one minute every hour to show solidarity with union leaders and their displeasure with the shipyard’s contract negotiation requests. Linkovich said many of those workers, including himself, have been reprimanded.

David Hench, BIW spokesman, did not comment on the situation and said the company “does not publicly discuss discipline involving employees.”

Union officials said BIW made similar demands for more freedom to hire subcontractors during its last contract negotiations five years ago, which the union yielded to because it could allow the shipyard to remain flexible while competing for shipbuilding contracts.

In 2015, BIW, a subsidiary of global aerospace and defense company General Dynamics, was focused on winning a $10.5 billion contract to build Coast Guard cutters. The shipyard warned losing out on the contract could lead to the elimination of 1,000 jobs.

Despite the allowance, union officials wrote the company “has somehow gone backward, falling further and further behind schedule.”

In a statement on its website, BIW said it is trying to hire more employees, including 1,000 more this year, but “The sheer volume of hiring has kept us at capacity on our ability to provide new hire orientation, training and match those employees with available work.”

“We will continue to hire and train, but we also need to maintain our ability to temporarily supplement with outside resources when we fall behind or don’t have enough skilled mechanics,” the company wrote on its website.

The shipyard continues to tout the importance of getting its manufacturing back on track, both to appease the Navy and to improve the chances of winning future contracts.

“In order to win new work, we need to complete the work we have on time,” BIW President Dirk Lesko wrote in a May 27 letter to employees posted on the company’s website. “We are not doing that today, which opens the door for our Navy customer to award work to other shipyards.”

The company is still feeling the sting of losing out on a $5.58 billion contract to build up to 10 guided-missile frigates for the Navy. The Navy chose Italian shipbuilding company Fincantieri to build the ships.

In a May 27 letter to employees, Lesko wrote, “Our current shipyard schedule performance is the reason we lost [the frigate contract].”

Lesko told the Portland Press Herald the company is at least six months behind schedule. Production delays were a concern even before the coronavirus pandemic slowed work further, as many employees chose to stay home instead of risking exposure to the virus on the shipyard.

Contract negotiations are expected to last until Friday, June 12. Voting on the new contract will open at noon on Friday, June 19 and close at noon on Sunday, June 21, when the existing contract expires.

Local S6 members will receive information on the new contract proposal in the mail, according to the union’s website. Due to COVID-19 gathering restrictions, members will vote online or via phone rather than meeting at the Augusta Civic Center, as they did five years ago.


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