BATH, Maine — One day after presidents of two BIW unions called for company owner General Dynamics to shut down the yard amid concerns about coronavirus, BIW announced a significant change to address one of the unions' chief complaints.
Tuesday morning, BIW announced that shuttle bus service to satellite lots, where many employees must park, would end temporarily due to increased availability of parking at area schools and restaurants due to closures.
But union officials said during a press conference Tuesday that the change took place because the bus company, Bo Mar Transportation, notified BIW that they would not provide transportation for the next two weeks.
Furthermore, according to a document provided to NEWS CENTER Maine, after Bo Mar Transportation notified the company that they would close for two weeks, BIW officials sought employees to volunteer to drive vans to shuttle employees to satellite lots.
Local S6 and Local S7 of the Machinists Union held the press conference in the Local S6 union lodge across Washington Street from BIW's main yard.
Together, the two unions represent about 4,200 of the shipyard's approximately 6,800 employees.
Matt Schlobohm, executive director of the Maine AFL-CIO, told those present, "We all know that the Centers for Disease Control and every public health agency in the world is saying that people should social distance, people should not be in confined tight spaces, and that that is what we absolutely need to do to slow the spread of this virus and to bend the curve for public health."
On Monday, the unions said BIW was not taking adequate precautions to slow the spread of the coronavirus. They asked General Dynamics to shut down the yard for two weeks and provide pay and benefits to all workers.
Chief among their concerns was that employees are expected to use sick or vacation time, or unpaid leave, to cover absences related to coronavirus.
BIW has told its employees through bulletin updates and internal memos that employees who need to take time off over coronavirus concerns or family necessity are “expected to use their contractual time to cover their absence.”
But Chris Wiers, president of Local S6, said that the 8,000 workers at BIW come from all 12 Maine counties, and argued that between working in the shipyard and commuting by bus or van, social distancing "isn't much of an option."
Furthermore, he said in a release, "Once it hits BIW, the shipyard can potentially become the biggest contributor to the spread of this virus throughout Maine."
Wiers said at the press conference that after Bo Mar Transportation told BIW they would not provide shuttle services for two weeks, BIW officials implemented the new parking strategy -- but only after attempting to find employees who could continue to drive vans and buses.
Bo Mar Transportation referred questions to Bath Iron Works.
Asked about what prompted the change, BIW spokesman David Hench declined to answer the question directly, saying only that BIW continues to do what it can to ensure access to free parking, and worked with the city of Bath to address those needs.
In a statement posted on the company's Facebook page shortly after the press conference, the company wrote, "Neither the Department of Defense nor the Navy has directed us to stop work or otherwise relieved us from our contract or schedule requirements. This is no different for us than it is for other major U.S. defense manufacturers."