Bath Iron Works is at least one year behind schedule, according to BIW spokesman David Hench. He said the coronavirus pandemic and a nine-week strike at the shipyard further delayed production. Kathleen O’Brien/The Times Record

BATH — Leaders of Bath Iron Works and its largest union say they’ll work together to recover from production delays exacerbated by a recently resolved nine-week strike and the coronavirus pandemic.

The next two ships BIW is scheduled to deliver will be a year or more behind schedule, according to BIW spokesman David Hench.

The USS Daniel Inouye, christened last summer, likely will be completed this winter. Its delivery date to the Navy was initially scheduled for almost a year ago.

“The impacts of COVID-19 and the strike on attendance and hiring have added to our schedule variance significantly,” Hench wrote in an email to The Times Record.

BIW President Dirk Lesko told the Portland Press Herald in May that the shipyard already was at least six months behind schedule. The next month, Machinists Union Local S6, BIW’s largest union, representing 4,300 of its 6,800 workers, went on strike. Union members came back to work Aug. 24 after approving a new contract with the company, but the damage caused by their nine-week absence was already done.

In three months, the shipyard fell at least six more months behind schedule.

The coronavirus pandemic has been making its own contribution to the slowdown. Nine BIW workers — seven employees and two contracted workers — have tested positive for the virus since March. After the first positive case was announced in March, only 41% of workers clocked into work, instead choosing to take unpaid leave to avoid potential exposure to the virus at the shipyard.

While the pandemic has hindered production in a variety of industries across the country, Matthew Caris, a Navy analyst with Avascent Group in Washington, D.C., warned against using the pandemic as a scapegoat for BIW’s production delay.

“Bath Iron Works’ schedule and performance issues predate coronavirus and the strike,” said Caris. “Bath may be using the pandemic as a reason to lay out the dirty laundry … but they’re giving themselves an opportunity to dig themselves out of this hole. They have an opportunity to be a success story in the next few years if they’re able to claw their way back on schedule.”

Navy analysts agreed a delay of any caliber isn’t good, but Craig Hooper, a national security consultant who writes about Naval affairs, said BIW has trudged through more daunting schedule delays. For example, BIW’s first Zumwalt-class destroyer was delivered in 2016, a full two years after its original expected delivery date. Because of this, he said he doesn’t think “a yearlong delay is a dire threat to the future of the yard.”

Loren Thompson, chief operating officer of the Virginia-based Lexington Institute, said the union’s strike didn’t impress the Navy.

“BIW comes out of this strike with its reputation somewhat tarnished because the Navy sees delays could be chronic,” said Thompson. “Management and the union need to work more closely because they now have some major problems to overcome that may shape the future of the shipyard.”

To get back on schedule and prevent further delays, Hench said the shipyard plans to “add additional resources through overtime, hiring and subcontracting, and we need to improve our efficiency.

“The new labor agreement will help us better address these challenges together,” he added.

Though union leaders were at odds with the company during the strike, Local S6 Spokesman Tim Suitter said the union is ready to work with shipyard management to get the company back on schedule.

“It’s unfortunate that we had to go on strike, but we’ve moved past that,” said Suitter. “We need to work together to build ships on time and under budget, that’s our goal as much as it is the company’s. We’re ready to work collaboratively to achieve that.”

Suitter said union leaders have weekly meetings with BIW management to discuss issues and solve problems in a way that minimizes use of subcontractors at the shipyard, a point of contention that was one of the pillars of the strike.

This comes as welcome news for Hooper, who has said BIW’s ability to get back on schedule hinges on the cooperation between the union and BIW management.

“BIW and their workforce will need to come together to find creative solutions as they work to recover the schedule on their multi-year production backlog,” said Hooper. “It will be up to the workers and management to figure out a way to make lemonade out of lemons here.”

Defense analysts said getting BIW back on schedule is key because the ability to build ships on schedule increases the shipyard’s chances of winning Navy contracts. That’s especially important today, as BIW is still feeling the sting from losing out on a handful of recent shipbuilding contracts.

Earlier this summer, BIW’s main competitor, Mississippi-based Huntington Ingalls, won a $936 million contract to build an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer.

In April BIW lost out on a $5.58 billion contract to build up to 10 guided-missile frigates for the Navy. The Navy announced Italian shipbuilding company Fincantieri was chosen to build the ships.

Caris said BIW’s biggest advantage is that the Navy likely wants to ensure both BIW and Huntington Ingalls – the only other shipyard that makes Arleigh Burke-class destroyers – stay afloat.

The Bath shipyard has contracts to build 11 Arleigh Burke-class destroyers for the Navy over the next decade. It’s also building a third and final Zumwalt-class destroyer.

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