Members of local S6 of the Machinists Union from a picket line at the South Gate entrance to BIW. Of union members who cast ballots, an overwhelming 87% voted to strike. (Derek Davis / Portland Press Herald) Buy this Photo

BATH — Bath Iron Works announced Wednesday it’s ready and waiting to speak with union representatives three days after the union launched its first strike in 20 years.

As the strike continues outside the shipyard’s gates, both parties say they’re ready to restart negotiations, but each is waiting for the other to make the first move.

Machinists Union Local S6, which represents 4,300 of the company’s 6,700 employees, rejected the three-year contract proposal over disagreements on the company’s plans to continue hiring subcontractors and make changes to seniority privileges.

“Even before negotiations started, this committee made no secret of the fact that they intended to strike first, talk later,” wrote David Hench, BIW spokesman. “Although they were offered a fair contract that respects seniority, compensates employees … and sets the yard up for future success, they misrepresented the company’s proposal to their members and led them into a strike that will inflict unnecessary financial hardship on thousands of Maine families.

“We cannot offer a contract that sets this yard up for failure,” Hench wrote. “We remain willing to meet with the union in an effort to work toward an agreement. The ball is in their court.”

Local S6 President Chris Wiers contended that the company is holding things up.

“The union negotiating committee is ready, willing and eager to return to the bargaining table to work towards a mutually agreeable contract,” Wiers wrote. “We did not cease negotiations and provide the members with a last, best, and final contract, BIW did that.”

Hench said  that BIW, a subsidiary of global aerospace and defense company General Dynamics, needs to bring in outside subcontractors and “deploy our shipbuilders where their skills are needed most. That is not an attack on seniority.”

The shipyard is 6 months behind on its production schedule. Union leadership agree  the company needs to make changes in order to catch up, but that subcontracting isn’t the answer.

“The area that needs the most improvement is BIW’s managerial team,” wrote Wiers. “Even if this management team got everything they were seeking they would still fail to maintain schedule, much like how they failed with the 2015 concessionary contract.”

BIW proposed a three-year contract, which includes=d an annual 3 percent pay increase, maintained current premiums on benefits including 401k and life insurance, but increased health plan co-pays.

According to Hench, union officials previously defined a fair contract as one with wage increases, which the company included in its proposal. However, he said a fair contract for the shipyard must allow the company to “quickly deploy available shipbuilders where they are needed most in order to meet the yard’s obligations to the Navy.”

“To date, the union has refused to even discuss this issue,” Hench added. “We do not have a secondary or alternative offer to present.”

In response, Wiers noted a petition over 3,000 Local S6 members signed in December against the company’s use of subcontractors. He said union representatives have provided alternatives to using subcontractors, but BIW “refused to implement those ideas, even on a trial basis.”

“Please ask yourselves how we built ships on time and often under budget with union contracts that were far less prohibitive for more than 100 years,” wrote Wiers. “Simple, managers came off the deck plates with years of shipbuilding knowledge and trusted their employees’ input.”

Local S6 last went on strike in 2000. It lasted 55 days.


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