x
Breaking News
More () »

Maine's Leading Local News: Weather, Traffic, Sports and more | Maine | NewsCenterMaine.com

Unions demand Bath Iron Works close shipyard to help contain coronavirus

As Maine deals with a state of emergency and state-wide closures, Bath Iron Works says employees must use paid vacation, sick days, or unpaid leave if they miss work

BATH, Maine — Editor’s note: You are starting to hear the term ‘flattening the curve’ as a way to stem the tide of coronavirus cases. The above video explains what that means. 

The leaders of two unions at Bath Iron Works say the company is not taking adequate precautions to slow the spread of the coronavirus

They say the company must close the shipyard, while continuing to pay workers, for two weeks in order to allow employees to "follow public health guidelines to isolate themselves at home and from the public."

Chris Wiers, president of Local S6 of the Machinists' Union, and Jessica Chubbuck-Goodwin, president of Local S7 of Machinists' Union -- both members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers -- issued the joint statement Monday afternoon.

Local S6 includes about 4,000 members, while S7 includes about 220 members, spokesman Andy O'Brien said.

BIW says they are open for work as normal, despite Gov. Janet Mills declaring a state of emergency Sunday and recommending ‘social distancing.’ In addition, schools and daycare centers have closed across the state, directly impacting some employees’ ability to work.

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.”

RELATED: Governor Mills declares 'civil state of emergency' due to coronavirus, COVID-19

"As a BIW employee you have a comprehensive benefits package that includes paid vacation and sick time to take care of yourself and your family during this difficult time," BIW said in an internal bulletin on Monday. If those benefits are not available, employees can take unpaid leave.

Earlier Monday, Wiers, who represents Local S6, issued a statement raising concerns about the BIW work environment and how it could easily lead to the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. 

"Collectively, there are upwards of 8,000 people that work at Bath Iron Works, living in all 16 counties statewide," he said in the statement.

The 'social distancing' Gov. Mills suggested "isn't much of an option," given BIW work practices, they said. "Large amounts of workers commute to BIW by van or bus each day. The large gatherings coming to and from, along with working throughout the shipyard, creates major effects that are now being discouraged throughout the country ... Once it hits BIW, the shipyard can potentially become the biggest contributor to the spread of this virus throughout Maine."

Later Monday, Wiers and Chubbuck-Goodwin said in a joint statement, "Much smaller employers in Maine have already announced they are sending workers home with full pay during this public health emergency and a multi-billion dollar corporation like General Dynamics [owner of Bath Iron Works] can afford to do the same."

Also on Monday, L.L. Bean announced it had temporarily closed its retail stores through March 29. The company said it would pay and provide benefits for all year-round employees affected by the closures.

The union and BIW management continue to discuss how to address the risk of the potential spread of COVID-19. 

The full Local S6 union statement:

Local Lodge S6 is very concerned with the initial response by General Dynamics Bath Iron Works [BIW] concerning COVID-19. The Union, has not been involved in any conversations surrounding decision making despite asking for the opportunity. The Union receives updates after the fact on what decisions were made and provided to the workforce without our input. Bath Iron Works should be protecting their Employees and the State of Maine by heeding their warnings and not trying to protect their wallets. They don't have time for a crisis unless they create one, then find a way to benefit from it financially. Billion-dollar companies like General Dynamics should be able to take care of their employees. Bath Iron Works could set the standard of employee worth during a time of crisis and create the opportunity to truly be a leader. Collectively, there are upwards of 8,000 people that work at Bath Iron Works, living in all 16 Counties Statewide. Local S6 does not feel BIW’s “shoot from the hip plans” are aggressive enough and only set a negative precedent. The “account for your own time” approach, followed by the now “unpaid leave for the next two weeks without penalty” approach does not address the concerns of a spreading virus. Large amounts of workers commute to BIW by van or bus each day. The large gatherings coming to and from, along with working throughout the shipyard, creates major effects that are now being discouraged throughout the country. Social distancing isn't much of an option as we are now seeing this virus already starting to spread in the State of Maine. Once it hits BIW, the shipyard can potentially become the biggest contributor to the spread of this virus throughout Maine.

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

Editor’s note: You are starting to hear the term ‘flattening the curve’ as a way to stem the tide of coronavirus cases. The above video explains what that means. 

Editor’s note: The above video shows you how to make hand sanitizer. MaineHealth’s Dora Mills gives NEWS CENTER Maine the recipe.  

NEWS CENTER MAINE CORONAVIRUS COVERAGE:

NEWS CENTER Maine YouTube Coronavirus Playlist