At a time of great economic uncertainty, going out on strike is never a decision that any working person takes lightly. No one wants to tell their families that they’re going to be on the picket lines for the foreseeable future, especially in this economy. But with the management of General Dynamics-Bath Iron Works forcing workers to accept a contract that would weaken worker protections and harm job quality at the shipyard, we unfortunately are left with no other option but to withhold our labor and demand a better deal.

From the beginning of negotiations, General Dynamics-BIW has made it clear that it will not negotiate an acceptable contract for its workers. Right off the bat, the company gave its doom and gloom talking points to justify a series of concessions that would allow management to outsource jobs to out-of-state subcontractors, attack employee seniority provisions and dramatically increase employee health care costs. The company also demanded the same “flexibility” to meet Navy scheduling demands during our last contract negotiations 4½ years ago, so it feels an awful lot like the movie “Groundhog Day” around here lately. Back in 2015, our members narrowly voted to support that contract in the hopes that it would sustain the future of shipbuilding in Bath.

But now, after securing another $45 million tax break from Maine taxpayers, the company is insisting on more concessions in their “last, best and final offer,” but providing no data or cost savings estimates to show how their plan will work. For decades. workers at this shipyard have struggled and bargained to make these good-quality jobs where workers have some basic protections, democracy and rights at work. We are not willing to just give that up due to mismanagement.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we have been praised for our essential role as front-line workers building ships for our men and women serving in uniform. Yet now we are handed a contract offer that viciously attacks the seniority of our most experienced workers and will likely push hundreds of mechanics with decades of experience into early retirement. When they leave, they will take with them a wealth of shipbuilding knowledge and expertise. When we asked how these changes will improve production, the company had no answer. And even though General Dynamics-BIW says it is hiring and simply must bring in out-of-state, non-union subcontractors, it doesn’t seem to mind forcing Mainers out of a job. This simply doesn’t add up. How are we both essential and expendable?

General Dynamics-BIW currently has a 12-ship backlog of our bread and butter, the DDG-51 class destroyer. We weren’t in a position to win the first round of Navy frigates because of our current workload in comparison to the winner, Marinette Shipyard, which submitted a superior design and didn’t have a backlog of work to finish. This is contrary to the narrative the company so desperately wants everyone to believe. In a recent news release touting General Dynamics-BIW’s award of a $42 million Navy contract, Sens. Angus King and Susan Collins stated, “The contract reflects the Navy’s ongoing confidence in Bath Iron Works to support and deliver high-quality ships that are essential to national security.” So who are we to believe?

When you compare the 253 years of combined shipbuilding experience of our negotiating team to the mere five years of combined shipbuilding experience on the company side, it’s glaringly obvious that the problems lie with management, not with the workers.

This contract shouldn’t be about profits for General Dynamics shareholders, but about the livelihoods of the Mainers who are proud to come to work every day to build the most advanced Navy vessels in the world. It’s time for General Dynamics to come back to the table with an offer that honors experience, respects workers and provides career stability with a pathway to retirement. In order to keep Bath built the best built, General Dynamics needs to listen to the men and women who actually build the ships.

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