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Union says BIW hiring crunch a 'manufactured crisis' designed to bring in subcontractors

Bath Iron Works has said it plans to hire 1,000 employees in 2020, after hiring that many in 2019.

BATH, Maine — Amid the most aggressive hiring blitz in decades, Bath Iron Works visited county fairs throughout the summer, held job fairs and has begun paying referral bonuses.

The company is also paying potential employees a $500 weekly stipend to attend a free, three-week program that trains them to be welders and manufacturing technicians.

The hiring push comes with 12 destroyers already under contract at the shipyard and just as the company bids on an entire class of 20 frigates for the U.S. Navy.

RELATED: With 12 destroyers in the queue, BIW undertakes 'tremendous hiring effort'

But members of BIW’s largest union say the company’s reported struggle to hire as many as 1,000 workers by the end of 2020 is disingenuous and masks a different agenda: a proposal to bring subcontractors into the shipyard for the first time in some 30 years.

The conflict has escalated to the point that in a recent alert, leaders of Local S6 of the Machinists Union suggested they may approach state legislators and Maine's congressional delegation to request that a $45 billion tax break granted to the company in 2018 be reversed.

One employee, Dick Doyle, said the union is working under the worst contract in all of his 42 years, but that the company continues to hammer employees – now pushing to bring subcontractors in to do what has for years been union work.

“The company wants to try to sub-contact jobs and I understand why they’re doing it, but our employees can do the jobs that they’re asking for,” Doyle said.” If we let them, let BIW have the chance of having subcontracting, there won’t be any jobs. They’ll just start doing that forever. “

According to union alerts in October, the union was meeting with the company daily to discuss subcontracting work.

"With each meeting, it becomes more apparent to your leadership that BIW has a 'manufactured crisis,'" one alert stated. According to another alert, skilled mechanics were being offered $15.97 an hour.

"Union leadership believes there are hundreds of skilled mechanics that applied for jobs at BIW that haven't received a callback," the alert stated. 

In a statement Friday, Local S6 Communications Director Tim Suitter said BIW now refuses to provide "critical data" to the union unless leaders sign non-disclosure agreements that would prevent them from communicating with their members.

Suitter referred to the current union contract that included annual bonuses instead of increases in pay. At the time, BIW said the company needed the measure to remain competitive for future work.

Suitter also referred to a $45 million tax break granted to the shipyard in 2018.

Following that tax break, Suitter wrote, company management began hiring only entry-level positions "at bottom pay." Entry-level hires now make up 76 percent of all hires, Suitter wrote, up from a previous 6 percent.

In August, Director of Trades Evan Gilman and Director of Human Resources Jon Mason wrote in an internal newsletter that the shipyard employed 6,000, but would need to increase that number.

Asked to comment for this story, BIW requested questions in advance but declined to answer. However, the company told the Press Herald last week that it hired just more than 1,000 employees in 2019 and plans to hire another 1,000 in 2020, 600 to 800 in 2020.

The hiring push is in part to replace retiring employees, many of them hired during “boom” years in the 1980s. BIW also has contracts for 12 DDG 51 destroyers.

Doyle said Friday that the company's attempt to subcontract jobs is a way to undermine the union.

"The company continues to make millions and millions of dollars … we made big money for General Dynamics," he said. "They need to understand they’re only as good as their workforce."

The final Zumwalt-class "stealth" destroyer, the future USS Lyndon B Johnson (DDG 1002), was christened in April, and the future USS Daniel Inouye (DDG 118) was christened at the Bath shipyard in June.

Also under construction are four  Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, the future USS Carl M. Levin (DDG 120), the future USS John Basilone (DDG 122), the future USS Harvey C. Barnum Jr. (DDG 124) and the future USS Patrick Gallagher (DDG 127). The future USS Louis H. Wilson Jr. (DDG 126) and 5 additional Arleigh Burke destroyers awarded under a September 2018 multi-year procurement are not yet under construction.