Contract negotiations between Bath Iron Works and its largest union continued throughout week seven of the ongoing strike. Though union leaders said negotiations “appear to be breaking down” on Tuesday, the two parties had reached an agreement on eight contract articles as of Thursday. Kathleen O’Brien / The Times Record

BATH — The largest union at Bath Iron Works reported contract negotiations with the shipyard are making steady but tentative progress, including agreement between the two parties on one of the “main issues” of contention that sparked a strike now wrapping up its seventh week.

In a statement Thursday, Machinists Union Local S6 officials said they agreed on three more contract articles on Wednesday, but described the daily negotiation meetings as “an incredibly frustrating, challenging and emotional process.”

Tim Suitter, Local S6 spokesman, declined to comment on what articles have been discussed, ironed out, or what topics sparked frustration, but said the union’s negotiating committee is “invested in the process, even though it’s frustrating at times.”

“There’s progress being made and we hope that continues,” Suitter said.

This progress comes on the heels of the union reporting Wednesday that negotiations “appear to be breaking down as the bigger issues are being addressed.”

Suitter said he didn’t know whether the daily meetings of the union, company and mediator will continue over the weekend.

The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, brought in to encourage communication, confirmed in a statement Thursday: “The parties have agreed to a total to eight articles including many of the key topics in this dispute,” but did not disclose what the “key topics” are.

The primary disagreements that sparked the strike were the company’s proposed changes to how it can hire subcontractors and proposed changes to seniority privileges, such as shift times and assignments.

“The Negotiating Committee understands that it is very frustrating for our brothers and sisters to receive vague information,” union leaders wrote Thursday. “However, in following the [Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service] mediation guidelines, that’s all the Negotiating Committee is at liberty to say. We plan to provide a fully comprehensive report, as soon as possible, in keeping with those guidelines.”

Suitter said he expects union and company leaders will review all 52 articles in the company’s proposed “last, best and final” contract, but said not every article will garner a debate.

The strike began on June 22 after the Machinists Union Local S6, which represents 4,300 of the shipyard’s 6,800 workers, voted against the company’s contract offer.

In Monday’s meeting, the two parties agreed not to change company holidays and the union gained “the ability to jointly develop merit raise criteria.”

“This helps the union to assist mechanics that are not first-class that display the skill to progress forward without having to wait for 1,000 hours,” union officials wrote Tuesday.

In the company’s proposed 3-year contract, the ability to determine merit raises was solely a company right.

David Hench, BIW spokesman, declined to comment Thursday.

Food bank for picketers 

Now that Local S6 members are approaching two months without wages, the Bath Area Food Bank and the Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program have come together to offer a pop-up food bank to Local S6 members. Pet food and baby diapers will also be available.

Food will be distributed at the Bath Senior Center from noon to 3 p.m. on Monday.

Executive directors of Bath Area Food Bank and the Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program said Local S6 members do not need to live in the organizations’ typical coverage areas to receive food.

The Bath Area Food Bank serves Bath, West Bath, Woolwich, Arrowsic, Georgetown and Phippsburg and the Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program serves Brunswick, Topsham, Bowdoin, Bowdoinham, Lisbon, Lisbon Falls, Durham and Harpswell.

Bath Area Food Bank Executive Director Kimberly Gates said she has seen 175 striking families use the food bank once or twice per month since the strike began in late June.

Karen Parker, Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program executive director, said some BIW workers have come to her organization as well since the strike began, but she isn’t sure how many.

“We have seen quite a few new faces since late June, but we do contact-free pickup now because of the pandemic so we don’t have conversations with them,” said Parker. “We know a few of them are from BIW, but it’s a mixture.”

Neither Gates nor Parker knew how many union members they expect on Monday. All members must wear a mask to use the pop-up food bank.

Suitter said union members feel “fortunate to have this unique opportunity.”

“A lot of times people might not want to go to the food bank, so the fact that they’re coming to us is fantastic,” said Suitter. “They’re great organizations and we’re really fortunate that they’re helping us.”


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