Bath Iron Works employees celebrate the christening of the USS Harvey C. Barnum Jr., the shipyard’s 40th Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, on July 29. Jason Claffey / The Times Record

Contract talks between Bath Iron Works and its largest union are going “smoothly and professionally,” according to both sides. Last week, the sides reached a tentative agreement over subcontracting, an oft-contentious issue that led the union to go on strike during its previous contract negotiations in 2020.

Machinists Union Local S6, which represents about 4,250 of the shipyard’s 6,500 workers, and BIW officials started talks last month, and union members are scheduled to vote on a new contract by Aug. 20, when the current one is set to expire.

“We hit the deck running,” the union’s negotiation committee said in a message to members on the first day of talks. The committee said the two sides tentatively agreed on 20 articles, including Article 30 regarding subcontracting and Article 16 regarding seniority.

“The process is going smoothly and professionally,” the committee said. “We are ready to move forward and hope to keep up the momentum as we work through the rest of the contract.”

“This is an important process for our shipbuilders and our company,” BIW said in a message on its website. “We are committed to working with the union to ensure our shipbuilders have what they need to continue the positive momentum we have created together. Our nation is depending on all of us to deliver these ships.”

The shipyard said the talks are “constructive and collegial,” adding both sides “continue to approach the process professionally.”


Progress to this point has been far more congenial than the last negotiation in 2020. The union went on strike during those contract talks over objections to the shipyard’s hiring of subcontractors and planned changes to seniority. The two sides compromised on a new contract that included 3% annual pay raises.

The strike, combined with the coronavirus pandemic, slowed BIW’s Navy destroyer production for months. BIW President Chuck Krugh has said the shipyard this year is continuing to ramp up production. In 2022, Krugh replaced Dirk Lesko, who was president during the 2020 strike. Lesko resigned, taking a job as president of the nearby Irving Shipbuilding in Halifax. That yard makes warships for the Canadian naval fleet.

“Since I arrived at BIW last year, I’ve spent as much time as possible on the deck plates, getting to know these men and women,” Krugh said last month during the christening of the USS Harvey C. Barnum Jr., the shipyard’s 40th Arleigh Burke-class destroyer. “They are dedicated. They are hard-working.”

The union in June signaled willingness to strike again if necessary, approving a measure that authorizes benefit checks if members vote to go on strike. The move is a common union tactic but typically not so far in advance of contract talks. The union also deployed its inflatable “fat cat” in a business suit holding a bag of money in one paw and the neck of a union worker in the other, displayed outside the union hall by the shipyard. Union members plan to wear orange shirts to wear in solidarity one day a week during the contract talks.

A strike would hamstring BIW, which last week was awarded a Navy contract to build three more Flight III Arleigh Burke-class destroyers. Twelve destroyers are now in the works at the shipyard. BIW and Ingalls Shipbuilding in Mississippi are the only yards that build Arleigh Burkes, and they compete for contracts. Ingalls, which has more than 11,000 workers and builds a variety of ships, last week was awarded a contract to build six destroyers.

Increasing the size of the Navy is a priority for Maine’s congressional delegation, which points to the Russia-Ukraine war and China’s growing naval fleet. U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King last month approved a version of the annual defense bill that would authorize the construction of two more destroyers at BIW and a long-discussed parking garage.


Some senators, including Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Ed Markey of Massachusetts, criticized the size of the $886 billion bill.

“The American people have repeatedly heard from Republicans that we need to cut government spending — for education, for health care, for food assistance — and now they are enthusiastically throwing funding to their defense contractor friends,” Markey wrote on the X (formerly known as Twitter) platform.

Added Sanders, “(Defense spending) just happens. We don’t worry about people sleeping out on the street, we don’t worry about people who don’t have any health care, we don’t worry about people who can’t afford prescription drugs.”

“The problem is there is evil and aggression in the world,” King said at the ship christening last month. “If there’s any doubt of that: Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. The whole purpose of building this ship is notifying our adversaries … we have the capacity to punish them if they commit an act of aggression against the United States or its allies.

“We are building these ships so they will never have to be used.”

Sen. Angus King addresses Bath Iron Works employees during the christening of the USS Harvey C. Barnum Jr. on July 29. Jason Claffey / The Times Record

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