Labor

BIW’s largest union rejects contract, goes on strike

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On Sunday evening, members of Local S6 voted to reject Bath Iron Works’ (BIW) final offer for a collective bargaining agreement and authorize a strike after nearly a month of negotiations.

BIW’s proposed three-year contract included 3 percent guaranteed annual pay raises, a $1,200 ratification bonus, and pension increases. Copays and deductible for health care costs were also increased in the contract. 

The union committe condemned BIW’s failure to protect seniority rights and its plan to continue hiring subcontractors, which some fear will strip BIW employees of work and damage long-term job prospects for shipbuilders in Maine. 

BIW says it subcontracts when it lacks the people, equipment or the facilities it needs to accomplish work on schedule. The shipyard is currently behind schedule on projects that it must complete to compete for new contracts. 

“Being responsive to change is important. The ongoing experience with the pandemic has shown just how much things can change on a global scale in very little time. Those who can adapt will survive and hopefully, flourish,” said Dirk Lesko, president of BIW in a message to the shipyard on June 8. 

The union’s rejection of the contract and decision to go on strike comes as BIW struggles to meet production demands. They are currently six months behind schedule on delivery of Arleigh Burke destroyers to the Navy, according to Lesko

The union’s strike will cut a significant portion of BIW’s much-needed labor force. Local S6 is made up of 4,300 BIW employees –– 64 percent of the company’s total labor force. 

Maine congressional delegates have weighed in on the dispute, hoping that both sides can come to an agreement for the sake of the workers, economy, and shipbuilding industry. 

“The inability to reach an agreement not only affects the skilled men and women employed at the shipyard but also the many workers in the supply chain, the economy of our State, and the ability of BIW workers to deliver much-needed ships to our Navy,” Senator Susan Collins said in a statement. 

On Monday morning, hundreds of workers gathered outside of the shipyard in picket lines with signs. Members on strike must abide by rules established by Local S6, such as remaining in designated areas. 

The union’s last strike was 20 years ago, and lasted 55 days. 

About Isabelle Christie

Isabelle Christie is a senior at Marist College pursuing a degree in history and minors in communication and writing. She is currently serving as Maine Policy Institute’s summer 2020 communications intern.

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