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June 26, 2020

BIW and striking union exchange jabs over further contract talks

picket line Photo / William Hall On Monday, striking BIW worker Clyde Bailey walked the picket line as police escorted visitors through it.

Bath Iron Works and its largest labor union, now on strike, continue to spar over a proposed contract. And it doesn’t appear either side is backing down.

The International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers Local S6, representing about 4,300 of BIW’s 6,800 employees, walked off the job Monday morning after voting overwhelmingly to reject a contract offer from the yard’s owner, Virginia-based defense contractor General Dynamics Corp. (NYSE: GD).

The local’s five-year contract had expired Sunday. A proposed three-year agreement has been the subject of heated bargaining since May 26, with Local S6 objecting to BIW’s wishes to alter job seniority privileges and to use nonunion subcontractors.

Other provisions of the offer included a 3% annual wage increase and a bump in pension contributions, but also an increase of health insurance co-payments.

On Wednesday, a BIW official told the union the most recent proposal was off the table.

“As you know, the company’s last, best, and final offer has now expired by its own terms,” said Jonathan P. Mason, senior director of human resources, in a letter that was posted on the local’s website. “The company does not have a secondary or alternative offer to present.”

Mason indicated that BIW was open to resuming discussions, but “it just is unclear what we would meet to negotiate over.”

Local S6 appeared unmoved by the letter, saying on Thursday members were sticking by demands set out two weeks ago.

“The union’s position today remains the same as our position on June 12 at 11 p.m.,” Local S6 Business Representative Jay Wapleigh wrote in his own letter. He also said BIW’s claim of not being prepared to make another offer was untrue.

“That is your prerogative, but your own literature suggested otherwise,” Wapleigh said.

“It is unfortunate that Bath Iron Works is not willing to review and revise its noneconomic proposals. 87% of the voting membership made it clear that attacks on seniority and expansion of subcontract language are not acceptable or viable solutions.”

Also on Thursday, BIW spokesman David Hench said an employee had tested positive for exposure to COVID-19, the yard’s fourth reported case of infection. The individual was last at work on June 18, Hench said, but would not disclose additional information.

In mid-March, days after the first reported case of the disease in Maine, Local S6 called a press conference demanding BIW respond to the pandemic by closing the yard and sending its workers home at full pay. BIW has continued operations, and indeed on Tuesday said it had nearly completed building machinery it has contracted to supply Guilford-based Puritan Medical Products. Puritan will use the equipment to ramp up production of COVID-19 clinical test swabs.

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