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Vaccine mandate causes worry at Bath Iron Works

The union told NEWS CENTER Maine that meetings between union leaders and top management are expected to take place next week.

PORTLAND, Maine — The deadline for the vaccine mandate is closing in and that’s raised concern for Maine hospitals and other health care facilities, worried they will lose needed workers who don’t want to be required to get vaccinated. 

Now the same worry is being felt at Bath Iron Works.

BIW now employs about 7,400 workers, according to the company communications office, and they are all facing a federal government vaccine mandate. President Joe Biden has ordered that all defense contractors must have their workers vaccinated. Unlike the federal mandate for other private employers with more than 100 workers, there is no testing option for defense contractors.

Officials at Machinists Union Local S6, the largest at the shipyard, say there is growing worried many of those union workers could lose their jobs.

A Machinists union official told NEWS CENTER Maine that only about half of the members are currently vaccinated. With a December 8 deadline for all to be fully vaccinated, both the union and the shipyard management are reportedly concerned that jobs could be lost.

The vaccination problem comes at an especially bad time for the shipyard. Bath Iron Works has been making a major effort over the past year to speed up work, and get U.S. Navy destroyers completed more quickly. Company leaders stated during the summer that they have had success at that so far, and were glad to welcome The Secretary of the Navy and Chief of Naval Operations to Bath to show off the improvements

But given the size of Local S6, there may be considerably more than 1,000 members not vaccinated at the moment. Another union official said those workers have a wide range of reasons for not getting the shot, but the looming deadline will soon force the issue. He said the union supports vaccinations but has not actively pushed people to get them. 

BIW management would not comment on the situation Thursday. The union says there are meetings between the company and the union planned for next week to determine what will happen to those not vaccinated by the deadline.

It's clear the situation is raising concern, both for the workers and the yard's ability to build the ships.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who is a strong supporter of BIW in Congress and with the Navy, said Thursday she wants to see a resolution:

“Throughout the pandemic, the shipbuilders at BIW showed up to work – both before and after the vaccines became available – because they are essential to our national security. I think it’s wrong for the federal government to take away the livelihood of some of those exact same experienced shipbuilders today, especially when BIW is already having difficulty hiring a sufficient number of workers," Collins said in a written statement.

Collins said she believes in the importance of the vaccine, but not forcing people to take it.

"Federal mandates, however, are unlikely to give unvaccinated Americans more confidence in the shot. The best and most trusted advisors in this area are doctors and other health care providers."