BATH — Bath Iron Works is calling workers to resume normal attendance starting Monday, May 11, after a large number of workers took extended time off due to cornovirus.

Leaders of International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Local S6, BIW’s largest union, said they have more questions than answers because the union was not told of BIW’s decision before it was sent to employees.

“We believe we should’ve had a seat at the table when discussing the safety of the employees,” said Chris Wiers, president of Local S6. “We have not been afforded that, so now we’re in the same position that everyone else is in. We’re just asking questions because there are a tremendous amount of unknowns.”

The shipyard employs 6,800 Mainers from every county in the state.

In a Wednesday notice to employees, BIW listed four options its employees can choose from: Return to work, request an alternative shift assignment, use unused paid time off or request a leave of absence for a minimum of 30 calendar days, up to 90 calendar days. The employees will have to take one of those options by Monday, May 11.

The notice states a leave of absence will be granted to employees who have, or live with a family member who has, a medical condition that puts them in the coronavirus “high-risk” category as defined by the Centers for Disease Control.

Employees also can apply for leave if they’re caring for a child or if there are “circumstances beyond the employee’s control which will prevent their ability to report to work due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

BIW, a subsidiary of defense and aerospace company General Dynamics, has remained open throughout the coronavirus pandemic, as it’s considered critical infrastructure because it makes warships for the Navy.

“While we may not be a formal part of the military, we clearly serve a vital role in our nation’s security,” Dirk Lesko, BIW president, said in a video released on the company’s website on Wednesday. “Nothing, including today’s coronavirus, changes the need for what we do, but we have adapted the way we do it and we’re providing employees with flexibility to choose what’s best for them and their families.”

The company said its demand for employees to return to work is attached to Gov. Janet Mills’ four-stage plan to reopen Maine’s businesses and public spaces.

Mills announced the tentative stages Tuesday, the first of which begins Friday, May 1. This first stage gives hair salons, golf courses, car dealerships, drive-in theaters and more the green light to reopen as long as gatherings are limited to fewer than 10 people.

The shipyard’s decision to remain open was repeatedly rebuked by Maine lawmakers and union leaders alike.

Earlier this month, 72 state lawmakers sent a letter to Lesko in which they noted the Bath shipyard was designated as “essential” by Mills and “critical infrastructure” by the Department of Homeland Security but wrote: “This designation allows, but does not require, a private business to stay open.”

In March, all four members of Maine’s congressional delegation called on the Defense Department to do more to protect BIW employees from the coronavirus and vowed to provide the U.S. Department of Defense with any authority or funding needed to mitigate the virus’s spread while keeping the defense industrial base and national security strong.

Despite remaining open, BIW offered employees extended unpaid leave, and about 60 percent of workers did not clock in after two employees tested positive for the virus in late March and early April. The shipyard confirmed both workers have since recovered and returned to work as of April 23. No other employees have tested positive.

David Hench, BIW spokesman, said the shipyard is still seeing 25% to 30% under normal attendance as of Thursday, April 30.

Wiers said only 45% of Local S6 union members have come into work over the last four weeks.

Despite no new positive cases of coronavirus from within the shipyard, BIW continues to encourage workers to wear face coverings while working, but it isn’t mandatory. The shipyard has distributed 7,500 face coverings to employees according to an April 26 news release. 

On April 24 the company announced it mailed disposable thermometers to employees for checking their temperature each day before coming into work. On the company website, BIW said this is “a voluntary effort, but it is an important part of the most current guidelines available and participation is strongly encouraged to keep employees safe.” 

As of Thursday, Maine health officials reported 1,095 coronavirus cases in Maine, and 53 people have died from the disease.


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