Union members picket outside Bath Iron Works on June 22. Production workers at one of the Navy’s largest shipbuilders overwhelmingly voted to strike, rejecting the company’s three-year contract offer and threatening to further delay delivery of ships. Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press

BATH — The strike at Bath Iron Works is entering its third week, with no signs of an agreement between the shipyard and its largest union.

Local S6, which represents 4,300 of the shipyard’s 6,700 employees, went on strike June 22 after rejecting the three-year contract proposal over disagreements about the company’s plans to continue hiring subcontractors and proposed changes to worker seniority privileges.

The union’s negotiating committee will meet with a federal mediator Monday at noon, according to the group’s Facebook page. Union officials wrote they “believe the company has also agreed to meet with the mediator separately,” but BIW spokesman David Hench declined to comment on the company’s plans to meet with a mediator.

In the meantime, BIW announced Thursday it is hiring more temporary subcontractors to compensate for 4,300 machinists on strike outside the shipyard’s gates, which isn’t helping the company’s already-delayed schedule.

“Even before the strike, the impact of attrition and COVID-19 had driven our manufacturing staffing more than 500 people below what was needed,” Dirk Lesko, president of BIW wrote in a letter to employees last week. “We have sought more efficient access to subcontractors through these negotiations because the focused and timely introduction of skilled people on a temporary basis can help break bottlenecks to the flow of production through the yard. Bringing others in can also free our workforce to focus on the most important tasks.”

Lesko wrote the use of subcontractors is the company’s right and that it will use the temporary workers to prevent further production delays. Subcontracting remains a major point of contention between the BIW and Local S6.

“We are outraged that this company would further expand its use of low-wage subcontracting,” Robert Martinez Jr., president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, wrote. “It’s a slap in the face to more than 4,300 IAM Local S6 shipbuilders who have worked through a pandemic and for generations to make this company successful.”

The shipyard’s move to bring in additional subcontractors comes a few days after the company lost out on a $936 million contract to build an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer to Mississippi-based Huntington Ingalls, the only other shipyard that builds that class.

The union’s second week of the strike also brought two new positive cases of coronavirus from the shipyard, making six total workers to test positive.

The newly diagnosed workers had been carpooling with the shipyard’s fourth positive case, announced late last month. Though no personal information about the workers was released, the company strongly recommended any employee who worked in the Combat Information Center tactical room in the future USS Carl Levin — a destroyer now under construction at the Bath shipyard — from June 15-29 be tested for the virus.

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention classifies three related cases as an “outbreak.” The CDC planned to offer testing to 53 people who were potentially exposed to three workers who recently tested positive.

Local S6 workers are losing their health insurance unless they opt to pay for a plan out of pocket. Keeping health insurance through the COBRA program can cost up to a couple of thousand dollars a month.

Bath Iron Works, a subsidiary of Virginia-based General Dynamics, provided a good insurance plan for workers because the union negotiated for it, and that underscores the necessity of fighting for a good contract, union spokesman Tim Suitter told the Times Record.

Face coverings have been noticeably sparse in the picket lines, though Suitter said the union is making masks available and encouraging union members to wear them. However, the union is still not requiring workers to wear masks while picketing or attending union events.

The Bath Police Department issued a statement on its Facebook page to clarify some confusion regarding face coverings in the picket line at BIW. The department said it asked one picketer to remove a Halloween mask “to verify he was a lawful picketer.”

“We fully support compliance with the Governor’s Executive Order regarding COVID-19 precautions,” the department wrote. “We allow and encourage the wearing of face coverings for the purpose of public health while picketing is occurring.”

According to the Maine CDC, Maine has recorded 3,415 confirmed or probable cases of COVID-19, as of Sunday. Since the disease reached the state in March, 109 Mainers have died from coronavirus, the Portland Press Herald reported.

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