The Bath Area Food Bank and Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program created a pop-up food bank for striking Bath Iron Works union members at the Bath Senior Center on Monday. Together, the organizations provided food for about 240 union members. Kathleen O’Brien / The Times Record

BATH — The Bath Area Food Bank and the Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program joined forces Monday to bring a pop-up food bank to members of Bath Iron Works’ largest union, who have been on strike for nearly two months.

Many union members accessing the food bank said they’re feeling the pressure of two months of lost wages, but the lack of health insurance during the strike has been more financially and emotionally taxing.

Richard Legare, a BIW machine operator of 42 years, said he has picked up a side job to help supplement his missing BIW paycheck, but said the absence of health insurance has been wearing on his family.

“We’ve been getting by, but I’m losing $1,100 each week, and it’s hard to replace that,” said Legare. “Of course we have to watch what we spend, but the thing that bothers me the most is the health insurance.”

Strikers lost their health insurance in late June unless they opted to pay for a plan out of pocket, which could cost up to a couple of thousand dollars a month.

Don Swift, a shipfitter of 40 years, agreed that the lack of health insurance has been the biggest problem his family has faced during the strike.

“There’s work out there if you need it, but you can’t get health care from that,” said Swift. “Without health care we’re paying $3,000 each month for my wife’s prescriptions.”

Without a steady wage and paying more for necessary medication, Swift said his family is bleeding from both ends, leading him to visit the food bank.

The union gives members a $150 weekly stipend during the strike, if they picket for four hours, but union members agreed that stipend doesn’t carry them far compared to what they normally make.

“I’ve lost $10,000 from this strike, and I can’t get that back,” he said. “I’ve been building destroyers for 40 years and this is the thanks I get?”

Mike Tribou, a BIW maintenance electrician of 14 years, said he took out a 90-day prescription shortly before the strike began, which has carried him through the strike so far.

Tribou, who is diabetic, said the cost of insulin without health insurance is what he has feared most throughout the strike, but his family reached their annual health insurance deductible, meaning medications have been free until the end of the year.

Despite this, Tribou said he was preparing to leave his job at BIW to find a new job if the strike doesn’t end soon so he’d have access to health care for his family as well as a steady income.

Despite the stress of having no health insurance amidst a pandemic, union members said they’re comforted by the community’s support.

“I almost didn’t come [to the food bank] because I thought there might be people who need it more,” said Tribou. “I donate to the food bank all the time, but I never thought I’d be on the other side, but seeing them here for us is great.”

Swift said he almost didn’t visit the food bank, but was encouraged to do so by his wife.

“My wife told me we could use it,” said Swift. “She’s right, and I’m glad I came. Their help means a lot to us.”

“This is the core of our mission — finding need and filling it,” said Hannah Chatalbash, deputy director of Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program.

Chatalbash said the pop-up food bank was born when a few union members approached the organizations expressing concern for their fellow members who are food insecure as a result of the strike, but couldn’t access the organization’s resources

“We had some folks criticize our helping the strikers because of political reasons, but we’re not in the business of determining why people are food insecure,” said Chatalbash. “We’re in the business of feeding people who are hungry.”

By the end of the 3-hour program, Bath Area Food Bank Executive Director Kimberly Gates said about 240 workers received food.

“This has been very rewarding,” said Gates. “These are good people, and it’s hard to watch them be on strike for so long.”

Gates said she has seen 175 striking families use the food bank once or twice per month since the strike began in late June.

The United Way gave away diapers to anyone who needed them, and Dogwill brought pet food for workers. Midcoast Maine Community Action had information for workers who might benefit from their programming.

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.

After a week of contentious negotiations aided by a federal mediator, the shipyard and union announced they agreed late Friday on a new contract proposal. If union members vote to accept the contract offer later this month, it would end a strike on Aug. 23.

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