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Mills and Maine Delegation put pressure on Defense Dept. over health concerns for BIW workers

'The Department’s response, in our estimation, has been inadequate,' the Delegation said Friday.

AUGUSTA, Maine — There have now been two confirmed cases of COVID-19 among Bath Iron Works (BIW) employees. Deemed an essential business by the Trump Administration, BIW and all other defense suppliers are still requiring their employees to report to work, despite health risks.

On Friday following the news of a second worker testing positive for COVID-19, Gov. Janet Mills and Maine’s Congressional Delegation renewed their call for the Dept. of Defense to take action to protect the health of shipyard employees.

“We have repeatedly and clearly expressed to the Defense Department our concern for the health and safety of the hardworking men and women at Bath Iron Works and the stability of the defense industrial base in the face of the coronavirus,” the Delegation said in a statement.

Back on March 19, Mills and the Delegation sent a letter to Defense Secretary Mark Esper and the Navy Acting Secretary Thomas B. Modly urging them to act to protect the health of shipyard employees during the coronavirus outbreak.

RELATED: Maine Delegation addresses health and safety concerns of large, private shipyards amid coronavirus pandemic

“The Department’s response, in our estimation, has been inadequate,” the Delegation said Friday. “This new case only deepens our long-standing concern and hastens the need for the Department of Defense to provide much-needed flexibility so these shipyards can better safeguard the health and safety of their workforce. In addition, we urge the Navy to immediately provide guidelines to protect our nation’s large private shipyards similar to the guidance they issued to its four public shipyards. This guidance is needed to limit the potential exposure of shipyard workers to COVID-19 while maximizing the important national security work they perform.”

Credit: AP
Workers rub their hands with hand sanitizer as they leave Bath Iron Works, Friday, April 3, 2020, in Bath, Maine. At least workers at the defense contractor have been diagnosed with the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

Mills' order asks that all people working at essential businesses work from home if possible, which is not an option for BIW workers. 

A spokesperson for BIW said, "BIW does not have a standard telecommuting policy at this time. As a manufacturing facility, the vast majority of our employees need to be onsite to do their jobs. Also, because our work is critical to national security, telecommuting would create significant security concerns for many of our employees."

The Delegation and Mills are asking Secretary Esper and Acting Secretary Modly to continue to:

  • Work to mitigate cash flow and other financial burdens that contractors and subcontractors may face, to include relief from contracting requirements that are uniquely impacted by COVID-19.
  • Take any actions possible to accelerate or advance payments or new contract obligations in order to provide immediate stability to the industrial base.
  • Clarify their planning and public guidance to ensure a stable industrial base while also ensuring the health and safety of the defense industrial base workforce.

Maine U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King hold seats on the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee and the Senate Armed Services Committee, respectively. Maine U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree is a member of the House Appropriations Committee, and Rep. Jared Golden is a member of the House Armed Services Committee.

RELATED: After one worker tests positive for COVID-19, BIW union officials say shipyard productivity declining

RELATED: BIW president sends letter to employees as calls for shutdown grow louder after confirmed COVID-19 case

At NEWS CENTER Maine, we’re focusing our news coverage on the facts and not the fear around the illness. To see our full coverage, visit our coronavirus section, here: /coronavirus

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