BATH — The 4,300 members of Machinists Union Local S6 rejoined the ranks at Bath Iron Works Monday after nine weeks on strike, a day several union members said they’ve been anxiously awaiting.

“I enjoy coming to work everyday and doing my job,” said Max Fortian, a shipfitter of 18 years. “We’re glad things came together as quickly as they did so we could come back to work.”

The contentious strike of BIW’s largest union ended Sunday after union members overwhelmingly approved a new 3-year contract with the shipyard, allowing members to return to work Monday.

Eliot Scott, an electrician at BIW, said he was eager to resume work because “I love what I do.”

“It feels a little funny, but I love being back to work and building ships,” said Scott. “A lot of other people seem happy to be back too. … Of course, there are always negative people in a group.”

“As far as work goes, we love our jobs,” said Shipfitter Kevin McNair. “We’re glad we went on strike because we needed a better contract, but we’re happy to be back.”

In the new contract, shipbuilders got most of what they wanted when it came to work rules and maintaining the status quo for hiring of subcontractors, along with the previous proposal’s annual pay raises of 3 percent for three years. The company got streamlined rules for hiring subcontracting, and a commitment to work together to get back on track.

While several union members said they’re satisfied with the new contract, Johnny Johnson, a shipfitter at BIW, said he “has mixed emotions” about the final version.

“I think if we held out a little longer we could’ve gotten a better deal, but I understand the need for people to go back to work,” said Johnson. “People need an income and health insurance.”

Though many shipbuilders were eager to work, not everyone returned on Monday.

Tim Suitter, Local S6 spokesman, said the shipyard gave Local S6 members the option to hold off their return to work until Aug. 31 or Sept. 8 to accommodate union members who got temporary jobs during the strike and needed more than a day’s notice to leave those employers.

The Local S6 members’ health insurance is restored when workers return to work, according to a company document.

BIW spokesman David Hench said he didn’t know how many people returned to work on Monday.

Scott estimated about 75% of workers returned to work Monday, but it’s difficult to tell how many people chose to take another week or two off to finish their temporary jobs.

“We’ll find out in a few weeks how many people will actually come back,” he added.

Regardless of when the shipbuilders return, Suitter said most workers  “were anxious to get back to work because nine weeks is a long time to be out of work.”

Following the contract ratification announcement Sunday, Hench said the shipyard was “pleased to welcome back our valued manufacturing employees and get back to the important work of building ships on schedule for the U.S. Navy,” a message Suitter seconded.

“We have a lot of work ahead of us, and we need to work together to get back on track,” said Suitter. “The first step is getting our skilled workers back to work.”

Prior to the strike, the shipyard was already more than six months behind schedule. Losing more than half the company’s machinists for nine weeks likely set the work further behind, despite BIW’s efforts to bring in subcontractors to keep the shipyard running.

The union went on strike on June 22 after an overwhelming majority of its members rejected the company’s “last, best and final” proposed contract. The major sticking points throughout the 63-day strike were the company’s proposed changes to subcontracting and seniority.

After a contentious six weeks with no progress, a federal mediator was called in to help resume negotiations between the two parties. After a week of daily meetings, a revised contract was presented to members for a vote.

The new contract, approved by 87% of Local S6 members over the weekend, maintains the subcontracting language from the previous contract and ensures shift changes will remain based on seniority, the two issues workers weren’t willing to concede.

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