BATH — Two of members of Congressional delegation sent a letter to the president of Bath Iron Works urging him to reconsider expanding subcontracting at the shipyard, a topic of contention in the ongoing contract negotiations between BIW and its largest union.

Contract negotiations are scheduled to end Friday. Voting on the new contract will open at noon on June 19 and close at noon on 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 5 years ago to approve the existing contract.

In their joint letter to BIW President Dirk Lesko, Democratic Reps. Jared Golden and Chellie Pingree suggested the company refocus its efforts “on hiring, training and investing in Maine workers for these critical jobs” rather than expanding subcontracting.

“As members of the House Armed Services Committee … and the House Appropriations Committee, we strongly believe that of all the threats BIW may face in the future, the greatest would be the loss of its skilled shipbuilding workforce,” Golden and Pingree wrote in their June 10 letter. “Outsourcing potential work at the shipyard through subcontracting weakens efforts to address the development of the yard’s future workforce and will erode Maine’s skilled shipbuilder base over time.”

The delegates added the company previously cited Maine’s low unemployment rate as a barrier for hiring and the reason it needed subcontractors but pointed out but Maine’s unemployment skyrocketed to nearly 11% last month.

“If in this new high unemployment environment BIW continues to find it difficult to recruit and hire Maine residents, it stands to reason that you should listen to Local S6’s recommendations that the company review its wage structure — particularly starting wages as well as incentives to attract and retain experienced workers — as a way to position yourself as an employer of choice in the region,” they wrote.

The starting hourly wage at BIW is $15.97, according to the current contract between BIW, a subsidiary of global aerospace and defense company General Dynamics, and Local S6 of the Machinists Union, which represents 4,300 of the shipyard’s 6,700 employees. Maine’s minimum hourly wage is $12.

The shipyard’s request to expand subcontracting at the shipyard brought on pushback from its largest union amid ongoing contracting negotiations, which started in late May.

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.”

Efforts to reach Chris Wiers, president of Local S6, were unsuccessful, but the union wrote in an online statement it’s “exceedingly grateful for the support Congressman Golden and Congresswoman Pingree are providing us.”

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

During the last contract negotiations between the shipyard and the union in 2015, BIW 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. BIW ultimately lost the cutter contract.

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

Lesko told the Portland Press Herald last month the company is at least six months 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.

David Hench, BIW spokesman, could not be reached for comment Thursday.

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,” 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.”


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