I am a retired shipbuilder from BIW. I had the privilege to work there for 34 years, after moving to Bath 31 years ago.

I am so proud of the members Local S6 for their overwhelming decision to strike for a fair contract from BIW, who is a wholly-owned subsidiary of General Dynamics, one of the most powerful defense conglomerates in the country. Truly, it is historic that the union members supported a strike by an 87% majority with 82% participation. Nothing like that has ever happened in this union. The company would be well advised to remember the near-unanimity of its workers’ decision.

BIW shipbuilders have built the best ships in the US Navy for over 100 years. The management of BIW has shot themselves in the foot with their wholly unreasonable and unfair bargaining with the union.

The company has started to hire replacement workers and subcontractors. They don’t seem to realize that their strategy has done nothing but ensure the rush to the retirement of the most qualified best shipbuilders in the world. There is an acute labor shortage in the United State, making it impossible to replace existing workers. The law of supply and demand states that any shortage of anything will result in a higher value than there would be if there was a glut of workers to choose from.

It strikes me as stupid if the company prolongs this strike, because it will result in a full-scale exodus of their existing workforce, many of whom have valuable shipbuilding skills, and could pass them on to the very much needed new shipbuilders.

It would be a shame to waste that asset.

Many of the younger shipbuilders will also leave for greener pastures. General Dynamics had better sell the yard, because there is a good chance that they have already ruined it beyond repair.

It is my understanding that the union workers have worked without a wage increase for almost five years. In past negotiations, the union has agreed to labor contracts that were excessively loaded with concessions urged on them by the corporate management. They did so out of a perception of shared sacrifice, not out of a fear of confrontation. Previous contracts have included bonuses that, because of income tax regulations, are taxed at a much higher rate than income from wages based on the hourly rate.

If I were negotiating this time around — and I have negotiated before — I would urge the union on a weekly basis to up the ante to raise the cost of settlement, because this time the corporate management has gone too far in proposing a contract that is wholly unsatisfactory.

I don’t know what the company is going to do about this situation, but I do know this: If BIW loses a significant part of its labor asset, they will be unable to replace them. The labor shortage is nationwide.

Sit down at the table. You will find the union’s very capable negotiators to be fair and strong.

James G. Finn lives in Bath.

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