BATH — Bath Iron Works, one of the state’s largest employers, will begin laying off members of Local S7 machinists union temporarily due to overstaffing Tuesday. The largest union at the shipyard, Local S6, remains on strike.

Dirk Lesko, president of BIW, announced the layoffs in a letter to employees Tuesday. He said the layoffs are necessary after Local S6 went on strike on June 22, eliminating over half of the shipyard’s workforce. As a result, the company hired additional subcontractors and moved workers to different positions. However, the company found “some functions that directly support production are beginning to run out of work to do.”

“While we have explored all available options to reassign impacted employees to other jobs, unfortunately no such opportunities are available,” Lesko wrote.

BIW is asking that Local S7 surveyors and trades inspectors to volunteer for layoffs. However,  if the number of volunteers is insufficient, the shipyard will move to involuntary layoffs based on seniority.

David Hench, BIW spokesman, declined to comment Tuesday how many workers need to be laid off and how long the layoffs are expected to last, but George Edwards, Local S7 assistant directing representative, said 25 to 30 workers could be laid off.

Local S6, which represents 4,300 of the shipyard’s 6,700 employees, began striking on 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.

“While these layoffs are temporary in nature, their impact on employees and their families is real and immediate,” Lesko wrote. “At a time when we are behind schedule, it is frustrating to be sending our employees home. However, the disruption of the strike leaves no other option.”

Edwards argued Lesko is directly responsible for the strike and subsequent layoffs because he offered Local S6 a contract that was rejected by 87% of its members.

“These layoffs are BIW’s way of putting pressure on Local S6,” Edwards, the Local S7 representative, said. “Lesko just wants to break the union. He could easily end the strike by going back to the negotiating table. (Local S7) members know what the company is trying to do and we stand behind Local S6.”

Tim Suitter, Local S6 spokesman, said the company’s decision to begin laying off other union members “feels like a blatant attack on union labor at Bath Iron Works.”

“Instead of trying to come back to the negotiating table and working through our issues, they’ve amplified it by bringing in more subcontractors anyway then turning around and laying off workers,” Suitter said.

Lesko told the Portland Press Herald in May the company is at least six months behind schedule, a problem that has only been exacerbated by the strike. He wrote another letter to employees later that month after losing out on a $5.58 billion contract to build up to 10 guided-missile frigates for the Navy. In his letter, he stressed the importance of getting back on schedule and delivering ships to the Navy on time.

“In order to win new work, we need to complete the work we have on time,” Lesko wrote in his May 27 letter. “We are not doing that today, which opens the door for our Navy customer to award work to other shipyards.”

The Bath shipyard has contracts to build 11 Arleigh Burke-class destroyers for the Navy over the next decade.

As S6’s strike enters its third week with no signs of a resolution, Local S6 union leaders met with a federal mediator Monday to discuss their demands of the company, but negotiations will remain stagnant until the shipyard’s representatives meet with the mediator.

Suitter said the shipyard will meet with the mediator sometime this week, but Hench declined to comment Monday on if or when the company plans to meet with a mediator.

Jessica Chubbuck-Goodwin, president of Local S7, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

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