Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon addresses a Local S6 union members during a rally July 25, encouraging them to keep fighting for a “fair contract.” Kathleen O’Brien / The Times Record

BATH — House Speaker and US Senate candidate Sara Gideon received an endorsement Friday from the Maine State Council of Machinists, which represents Bath Iron Works’ largest unions.

The council represents BIW’s Local S6, which has been on strike for six weeks, as well as Local S7.

Gideon has visited Local S6 union members at the picket line multiple times since the strike started after the union rejected a contract offer from the shipyard. During a July 25 strike rally, Gideon said she has supported the union “for every one of the 34 days of this strike, and we will continue to do so until you are able to go back to work with the contract and benefits that you deserve.

“When you go on strike, making sure that a fair contract and good jobs and strong benefits are available, you’re not doing it for you, you’re doing it looking backwards at the young men and women who have just started at Bath Iron Works and want to make a career here,” she said.

Local S6, which represents 4,300 of the shipyard’s 6,800 employees, went on strike June 22 after rejecting the 3-year contract proposal over disagreements about the company’s plans to continue hiring subcontractors and proposed changes to worker seniority privileges.

“From our shipyards to our lumber mills, hardworking Mainers keep our state strong, and I’m so proud to have the endorsement of the Maine State Council of Machinists,” Gideon wrote in a statement Friday. “In the State House we’ve fought for workers by strengthening collective bargaining rights, raising the minimum wage, and investing in job training programs to expand our skilled workforce. I will continue to support the workers of Local S6 in their effort to secure a fair contract, and I will always stand up for Maine’s hardworking families in Washington.”

Local S6 and the three other unions at the shipyard endorsed Sen. Susan Collins, Gideon’s opponent, during the 2014 election. That was the first time the union ever threw its weight behind a Republican.

In a statement Friday, Maine State Council of Machinists President Mark Vigliotta said the council’s executive board is “proud to endorse Sara Gideon in her campaign for US Senate.”

“Our 5,000 members working in paper mills, public works departments, the lobstering industry, a law office, and shipyards deserve to be represented by someone who will be a tireless advocate for them – and Sara has demonstrated that commitment in the State House,” wrote Vigliotta. “We’ve taken particular notice of Sara’s support for striking members of Local S6, actions that speak volumes about her dedication to working men and women, and we stand behind Sara in her campaign and look forward to working with her in Washington.”

Political experts said Gideon’s emphatic support of Local S6 from the beginning of the strike could only benefit her campaign, but Andrew Rudalevige, chair of Department of Government and Legal Studies at Bowdoin College, said she had to walk a tightrope while walking the picket line.

“She’s stressing her alliance with organized labor, but the optics of doing anything that undermines BIW’s competitiveness are tricky,” said Rudalevige. “Arguing against ‘Bath built is best built’ is political suicide. While it’s true she is becoming a little more emphatic in her support for the union side of the dispute, this effort to draw contrasts with Sen. Collins has natural limits — if the strike means the shipyard loses work, that’s a problem.”

Collins visited the picket line to speak with union members July 24. During the visit, she said she’s eager for the strike to be resolved so Local S6 members can return to work.

“I encouraged both sides to seek the help of a mediator, and my hope is that the mediator can bring both sides together and that the mediator will help them come up with solutions,” Collins said. “Once we’re back on track and these incredibly skilled workers are back building the best ships in the world, I can help them as I’ve always helped them, and that’s by ensuring that BIW gets contracts, that we have an adequate shipbuilding budget, and we continue to pursue the goal of a 355-ship Navy.”

Mark Brewer, a political science professor at the University of Maine said Collins’ statements “fits in with her brand.”

Rudalevige agreed, adding to support Bath Iron Works workers isn’t an issue that “cleaves across partisan lines.”

“Sen. Collins, along with Sen. King, have been hugely energetic in trying to drive funding to BIW (as opposed to competing shipyards), hence the union’s endorsement last time around,” he said.

The union council’s endorsement isn’t the first Gideon has claimed from Collins. In 2014 the Massachusetts and Northern New England Laborers District Council endorsed Collins, but the council flipped this year and now endorses Gideon.

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