Shipyard, Machinists union reach tentative deal to end strike in Maine

The agreement, which was unanimously endorsed by union negotiators, will be put forth to the 4,300 members of Machinists Local S6 for approval.

Striking Bath Iron Works shipbuilders march in solidarity, Saturday, July 25, 2020, in Bath, Maine.
Striking Bath Iron Works shipbuilders march in solidarity, Saturday, July 25, 2020, in Bath, Maine. –(AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File)

Navy shipbuilder Bath Iron Works and production workers reached a tentative agreement to end a strike that has stretched for more than a month during a global pandemic, the union announced Saturday.

The agreement, which was unanimously endorsed by union negotiators, will be put forth to the 4,300 members of Machinists Local S6 for approval. Because of the pandemic, voting will take place online and via telephone during a three-day period from Friday, Aug. 21, to Sunday, Aug. 23.

Production workers went on strike on June 22 after overwhelmingly rejecting the company’s final offer.

The strike focused more on rules about subcontractors, seniority and work than on wages and benefits. The tentative agreement retains the company’s proposal for annual wage increases of 3% over three years, and there were some improvements in the health care package, union official Jay Wadleigh said.

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“It preserves our subcontracting process, protects seniority provisions and calls for a collaborative effort to get back on schedule,” Wadleigh said Saturday. The agreement was reached late Friday, he said.

The strike came against the backdrop of a global pandemic in which workers lost their company-paid insurance and an election year in which some politicians sought to get involved on behalf of workers.

The pandemic added to tensions at the shipyard. Some workers were angry when the shipyard rebuffed requests to shut down for two weeks. The shipyard was considered essential and continued production even though hundreds of workers stayed home.

Bath Iron Works, a subsidiary of General Dynamics, builds guided-missile destroyers for the U.S. Navy. The strike threatened to put the shipyard further behind schedule on delivery of the warships at a time of growing competition from China and Russia. Bath Iron Works was already six months behind before the strike, partly because of the pandemic, officials said.

Frustration had been building among workers since the last contract in which the Machinists accepted concessions that were deemed necessary to win a U.S. Coast Guard contract — and save shipbuilding jobs.

Bath Iron Works lost that contract to another shipyard in 2016. It also lost a lucrative competition for Navy frigates in late April.

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Shipbuilders contend production workers shouldn’t shoulder the cost for problems they blame on mismanagement.

The shipyard, a major employer in Maine with 6,800 workers, has been undergoing a transition as aging workers reach retirement. The shipyard hired 1,800 workers last year and expects to hire 1,000 workers this year.

Despite all of the new workers, who must be trained, the shipyard said it needs the flexibility of hiring subcontractors.

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