At Bath Iron Works, we believe the best job protections for our employees come through the ability to get the job done right and on time. We approached the recently concluded negotiations with IAMAW Local S6 looking for solutions to help improve the operation of our shipyard in a way that treats our employees fairly.

For sake of Maine economy, BIW workers deserve a fair contract” (Press Herald guest column, June 17). That is exactly what Bath Iron Works – the state’s largest manufacturing employer – delivered.

Local S6 and BIW concluded negotiations for a new labor agreement on June 12.  BIW’s last, best and final offer was presented at the union’s request after nearly three weeks of negotiations. BIW put its best offer forward. It is not a placeholder for a future, better deal.

While Local S6 President Chris Wiers concedes in his June 17 column that his effort to take more than 4,200 BIW employees out on strike in the midst of “great economic uncertainty” should not be taken lightly, he ignores the union’s most repeated request: “It doesn’t benefit anybody to strike, but if we’re not given wage increases, I don’t know what will happen … wages are the main thing” (“BIW, union extend contract for one month amid pandemic,” April 16). We listened. Our offer includes a $1,200 ratification bonus and 3 percent wage increases each year of the proposed contract. It maintains our comprehensive benefit programs at an affordable cost. On average, 90 percent of the increases will stay in employees’ pockets after health care costs are considered.

Local S6 negotiators initially refused to listen to a state of the business briefing at the outset of negotiations, just days after BIW’s loss to the competition for the Navy’s new frigate. After storming out of negotiations, they returned the next day and sat with their backs turned to the company during the briefing. Local S6 officers may not see the need for change. The management team does not have that luxury after our fourth such loss in a row. It is our responsibility to ensure the competitiveness of one of the state’s largest employers.  This includes proposing changes to restrictions on our ability to muster and deploy every available resource.

Our offer is not an attack on seniority, but it does balance seniority with the ability to assign people with the right skills where needed.  We’re seeking to address that through day-to-day job assignments across our facilities. The most important work-life decisions – potential layoffs, permanent shift changes, etc. – remain seniority-based. And we’re not interested in driving away our senior employees. Changes in the union’s pension fund may cause some people to consider retiring earlier, but we hope they stay. We need every one of them and their depth of experience.

Our offer also is not an attack on our shipbuilders’ jobs, but instead seeks to preserve them. We need to win new work and to deliver to the U.S. Navy on time, including through the use of third-party resources that can help us recover and maintain schedule at a time when we continue to hire and train. We have the right to subcontract today when we lack the people, equipment or facilities to get the job done, but the current process is broken. It took months of talks before we could engage Maine companies just to shovel snow last year, at a time when we needed our shipbuilders to focus on building ships. We seek only to supplement our workforce efficiently and effectively, not replace it. Recognizing the sensitivity of this issue with employees, our proposal restricts our ability to subcontract in a trade where people are on layoff. This protection does not exist in today’s contract.

Our offer is a strong one for today and tomorrow and reflects the fact that we continue to value our people. In 2019, we invested more than $13 million training 1,800 new employees. We are trying to hire 1,000 more in 2020. Our final offer delivers a strong economic benefit for our employees today. And it incorporates change where change is needed to secure our place as one of America’s premier shipyards – and one of Maine’s premier employers.

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