I’ve spent the last several months on the telephone checking in with the people I represent, especially as COVID-19 put so many people in uncertain situations. Since June 22, this has included many calls with members of Local S6 and their families. Local S6 is on strike from Bath Iron Works (BIW) over proposed contract changes to seniority privileges and efforts by the shipyard management to hire subcontractors.

With 4,300 people in Local S6, almost everyone in our community knows one of these workers. For many of us, they are family, close friends and loved ones. We know that these men and women are skilled workers that take pride in what they do and work hard on behalf of BIW. These workers do not want to be on strike – they want to be at work – but striking is their path to a fair contract.

Striking is not easy. In visiting the picket line and speaking on the phone with members of Local S6 in recent weeks, I’ve learned of families struggling to put food on the table and turning to the local food bank. I’ve heard from individuals lacking health insurance. And there’s an emotional toll that comes with all of this. Some strikers have been picking up part-time jobs to make ends meet, but many who have worked at the shipyard for 30 or 40 years have suffered workplace injuries that make other work difficult.

For workers not striking, there is more to get done, putting a strain on those still at the shipyard. To fill some of the gaps, subcontractors are being brought in from places like Mississippi that bring with them potential health risks. Local legislators brought this concern to Maine CDC, which immediately reached out to BIW to work out a suitable protocol for workplace health protection.

The strike also impacts our local economy. During the early weeks of the pandemic, BIW provided income to local businesses by bringing in lunches for shipyard workers. Since the strike began, the company has provided meals prepared in house. Local businesses are also losing business from workers who usually come from all across the state, purchasing lunch, coffee and snacks in the area, and also in the areas where they commute from. And wages lost due to the strike means money not spent on rent, mortgages, education, local vacations or consumer goods like clothing and sports equipment. It is a washing machine not repaired, a lawnmower not replaced.

As my colleague, Sen. Eloise Vitelli, said at a recent rally, “A strike is not a problem. It’s a symptom.” In this case, management insists that bringing in outside contractors and reducing seniority will solve the problem of being behind schedule. Local S6 counters that subcontractors dilute the value of workers’ unique skills and years of service. The larger problem is a lack of trust. Over the last several years, workers feel like their talent is not being recognized. Instead of promoting from within to ensure a smooth building process, for example, outside managers are making decisions without the necessary background in a particular area.

A federal mediator is speaking to BIW and Local S6 now. In the coming days BIW will be returning to the table to talk, which is at the heart of a successful negotiation. My hope is that this leads to a fair contract. I will also look to our Federal Congressional Delegation to push BIW in that direction, to the Navy to step in and help facilitate this process and, as your local representative, I will keep speaking up for the fair contract workers deserve.

In the meantime, I ask all in our community to help our friends on the picket line through this difficult time. Donate to local food banks and pantries, offer part time work where possible and lend a friendly smile and ear to listen. Let’s demonstrate what we have so many times before, that our community is one that comes together in the hardest times and shows up when our neighbors need our help the most.

Rep. Allison Hepler represents District 53 — Arrowsic, Dresden, Georgetown, Phippsburg, Woolwich and part of Richmond — in the Maine House.

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