BATH — The lengthy strike of the largest union at Bath Iron Works could be lifted before the end of the month if workers accept a new contract proposal.

The shipyard and union negotiators agreed late Friday on a new contract proposal after a week of contentious negotiations aided by a federal mediator. If union members vote to accept the contract offer later this month, it would end a strike set to enter its eighth week Monday.

Local S6 of the Machinists Union announced Saturday that the revised contract offer maintains current subcontracting language. The current contract, which expired in late June, allowed subcontracting after a joint review period by both parties.

The new contract also includes an economic package with 3% wage increases in each year of the contract and continuation of existing benefits to include health care plans and a pension, according to a BIW news release.

“What we were able to accomplish at the negotiating table is a testament to the strength and solidarity of our membership,” said Local S6 President Chris Wiers. “They were educated on the issues and our negotiating committee knew they had the backing of our membership. I am incredibly proud of our entire team and we’re excited to get back to work building the best ships in the world for the U.S. Navy.”

Union leaders said this new version of contract, endorsed by the Local S6 negotiating committee, “gives BIW the tools they need to have, and the ability to respond to the unpredictability of their day-to-day needs.”

In the original proposal, which union members rejected by an overwhelming majority, the company requested the freedom to hire subcontractors without communicating with the union and to move workers where they’re needed to “expedite our ability to employ whatever resources are available as quickly as possible to meet our customer’s needs in a way that is fair to our employees,” according to a company statement.

Subcontracting, along with the shipyard’s proposed change to seniority privileges, have been the driving disagreements that sparked the strike. Shift changes and overtime selection will remain based on seniority in the new contract, which was another union sticking point.

“This process was emotional, difficult, and frustrating for both parties,” union leaders wrote. “Being able to reach a tentative agreement to bring back to our membership that keeps our subcontracting language unchanged, continues to protect seniority, and attain a modest economic package is what we were able to do.”

Increasing production speed remains one of the shipyard’s major concerns, as it was at least six months behind schedule prior to the strike, according to BIW President Dirk Lesko. The company’s delay wasn’t helped by a majority of its workforce picketing outside the shipyard’s gates for seven weeks.

“We worked hand-in-hand with the union negotiating committee to ensure that we addressed the concerns of our valued employees,” Lesko wrote in a statement Saturday. “We are hopeful they will return to work soon so we can get on with our important mission of building ships for the U.S. Navy.”

The shipyard has repeatedly stressed the importance of getting its manufacturing back on track, both to appease the Navy and to improve the chances of winning future contracts. Concerns about falling behind schedule prompted the company’s call for changes to the subcontracting policy.

“This agreement, coupled with our hiring initiatives and major investments in facilities and production processes, positions BIW and LS6 to partner together to improve schedule performance, restore the yard’s competitiveness and ensure Bath Built remains Best Built for generations to come,” Lesko wrote.

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins issued a statement Saturday saying news of the tentative agreement between the two parties is “positive development” for BIW workers.

“With the help of the federal mediator, I’m glad that both sides were able to work together to resolve differences,” Collins wrote. “I will continue to help the workers at BIW as I always have — by working to assist them in getting contracts that keep our shipbuilders employed, ensuring an adequate shipbuilding budget, and pursuing the goal of a 355-ship Navy.”

In a tweet Saturday, U.S. Senate candidate and Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon wrote she’s glad BIW and the union reached an agreement “that allows Mainers to continue to pursue careers as shipbuilders.”

“I’m proud to stand with Local S6 and I look forward to BIW continuing to build the best ships in the world,” wrote Gideon, who has been a frequent visitor at the Local S6 picket line throughout the strike.

Local S6, which represents 4,300 of the company’s 6,700 employees, launched its strike on June 22 after rejecting a three-year contract offer from the company. Union members are now entering their eighth week on strike. The strike will continue until the union members accept a new contract.

Copies of the new contract proposal are being mailed to union members. Members will vote on the new contract online and via telephone from Friday, Aug. 21, to Sunday, Aug. 23.

If approved, the new contract would last until Aug. 20, 2023.


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