BATH, Maine (NEWS CENTER) — Shipbuilders at Bath Iron Works got a vote of confidence Friday from their No. 1 customer, the U.S. Secretary of the Navy.
Navy Secretary Richard Spencer came to Bath to meet with BIW leaders and all four members of Maine’s congressional delegation.
“We have great faith in Bath, Bath built, best built,” Spencer said, echoing a phrase the shipyard and its supporters have used for years.
The Navy proved that Thursday when it signed contracts to build two more of the DDG-51 class destroyers. The contracts are not a surprise, as both ships were being discussed and negotiated for months. However, shipyard and union leaders, as well as delegation members, said it's great news to have the additional work lined up.
Sen. Angus King joked about the timing of the contracts and the visit.
“Anytime you want to visit Bath you’re welcome, and always, now that you’ve established the precedent, bring a couple of destroyers with you,” Sen. King said.
The secretary also took his message directly to the workers. BIW’s entire day shift took a break to hear from the department chief and ask questions. Union president Mike Kennan told NEWS CENTER the give and take lasted about 45 minutes, and that the workers liked what they heard.
“He gave us the feeling he meant what he said,” said Local S-6 union president Mike Keenan. “They want to build the Navy. They’re going to look to us to help build the Navy and he praised the shipbuilders.”
New ship contracts, and the prospect for more ships to follow, is good news for the Bath-Brunswick area, too. BIW is by far the area’s largest private employer, with nearly 6,000 workers and an annual payroll of more than $350 million.
At the Vintage Barber Shop in Bath, barber Linda Toothaker said the yard is vital to all the businesses in the area, including the barbershop.
“BIW is in and out of here all day long,” she said. “Six days a week, a big part of our business here. "
Two of the three chairs were occupied by current or former BIW workers, and two more were waiting for their turn. Barber Joe Hanna was giving a trim to a current yard worker and agreed the two new ship contracts are good news.
“Definitely stability for our economy around here, that’s for sure,” he said.
PHOTOS: Navy secretary visits BIW
► PHOTOS: Navy secretary visits BIW
The congressional delegation hopes BIW will be able to build many more of those ships. They are supporting the effort to significantly expand the Navy fleet to 355 “battle ready” ships. Delegation members say the current fleet is 280 ships.
“When we look at our fleet and where it is deployed today, there can be no doubt we need more ships,” said Sen. Susan Collins.
Sen. Collins and the other delegation members say they expect to soon begin discussions with the Navy and Congress about a new multi-year plan for building more ships at BIW.