A few members of BIW’s Local S6 remain picketing outside the union hall in Bath on Thursday after the company and the union reached a tentative agreement last week.  Kathleen O’Brien / The Times Record

BATH — Picket lines outside Bath Iron Works thinned during the eighth week of the Machinists Union Local S6 strike as the vote on a new contract inches closer. Union members told The Times Record Thursday they expect the new proposal to be approved.

“From what the company offered to what they settled on … they came a long way,” said John Payne, a welder at BIW for 30 years. “This new contract received 100% endorsement from the Local S6 negotiating committee, so people have no reason to vote it down.”

The shipyard’s initial “last, best and final” contract offer made changes to how the company can hire subcontractors and gave the ability to move union workers to different jobs or shifts regardless of seniority.

Those changes were unpopular among union members and lead to the rejection of the contract proposal and a strike that launched back in June.

The two parties restarted contract negotiations with the help of a federal mediator after being diametrically opposed for six weeks. After a week of meetings that ran late into the night, the union and company reached a tentative agreement, which union members will vote on next weekend.

Payne said the union was determined not to allow the shipyard more freedom to hire subcontractors because it made that concession five years ago in the last contract between the union and the company. At the time, BIW was focused on winning a $10.5 billion contract to build Coast Guard cutters and warned losing out on the contract could lead to the elimination of 1,000 jobs. BIW ultimately lost the cutter contract.

“We made that concession thinking that we would get a better contract this time,” said Payne. “Not only did we get a worse contract, we got a terrible contract.”

“Hopefully we’ve drawn a line in the sand with BIW that says we’re not going to take it anymore,” said Roger Dennison, an insulator of 39 years.

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.

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.

Mike Fitzpatrick, a pipe fitter of 43 years, said he’s especially thankful shift changes will remain based on seniority.

“Knowing this company, they would’ve used that freedom as a form of discipline.” Fitzpatrick said.

“What we were able to accomplish at the negotiating table is a testament to the strength and solidarity of our membership,” Local S6 President Chris Wiers said late last week. “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.”

In a letter to employees released Tuesday, BIW President Dirk Lesko said the negotiating committee “worked to address the concerns of employees, improve schedule performance and improve the exchange of information needed to solve problems.”

“The tentative agreement includes provisions for continued support by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service,” Lesko wrote Tuesday. “This agreement, coupled with significant hiring and major investments in facilities and production processes, better positions BIW for the future. … I look forward to welcoming our LS6 employees back to work soon so we can return our collective focus to building ships for the U.S. Navy.”

Attempts to reach BIW Spokesman David Hench and Local S6 Spokesman Tim Suitter were unsuccessful Thursday.

President Donald Trump chimed in on Monday to tweet that he was “Glad to have helped” BIW and Local S6 reach a tentative agreement.

Assistant to the President and Director of the Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy Peter Navarro later said Trump was aware of the efforts to bring the federal mediator into the mix to bring Local S6 and BIW to the negotiating table but wasn’t directly involved.

Navarro said he helped by calling other officials, including Richard Giacolone, deputy director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Services and IAM International President Robert Martinez, after AFL-CIO Metal Trades Department President Jimmy Hart called the White House to ask for help.

“Sides don’t settle disputes, people do,” Navarro said Tuesday. “Jimmy Hart, Rob Martinez, the Local S6 bargaining unit, the General Dynamics team … Once we got them to the table, they did all the hard work.”

Members will vote on the new contract online and via telephone from Friday, Aug. 21, to Sunday, Aug. 23.

If approved, it would end the strike that began on June 22 when the union voted to reject the company’s first contract offer. The new contract would last until Aug. 20, 2023.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.