BATH, Maine — Bath Iron Works (BIW) is expecting a few important visitors on Monday, May 10. They include Maine's U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King, and Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Admiral Mike Gilday.
Gilday, the senior military officer in the department of the Navy, and the senators will spend the day touring the shipyard to see ships that are under construction, as well as manufacturing areas and training facilities. They will also be speaking with leadership and employees. This is Gilday's first time visiting BIW.
"It's a privilege to be here today at Bath Iron Works," Gilday said as he took the podium in the navy yard.
Gilday toured the shipyard with Senators Susan Collins and Angus King called BIW a 'national treasure'.
"I have to tell ya, as a sailor who has commanded a bath built ship and sailed on another they are quite a capable warship," he said.
Both senators said there is a sense of pride and teamwork at BIW.
"They're all focused on one goal which is meeting schedules and meeting budgets," King said of the employees at BIW.
King added that while it's important to build quality naval ships here in Bath, the goal is to never have to use them.
"The purpose is to deter adversaries and for them to know of what they will be facing if they attack this country," he said.
Last month, President Joe Biden introduced his $1.5 trillion budget, calling for an increase in non-defense spending on things such as gun violence and climate change. Senator Collins said she's concerned about where any cuts will be coming from.
"There are some on the democratic side of the aisle that are actually proposing further cuts to the defense budget and that would be devastating for bath iron works, devastating for our navy, and devastating for our national security.>
Collins says the CNO play a key role in determining the Navy's budget priorities. She says she's hoping this visit will show Gilday that BIW is past its labor disputes of last year, has a fully-engaged workforce, and is in need of funding for some particular projects. She says those include getting funding for three DDG destroyers, looking ahead to the next surface combatant ship, and making investments in the infrastructure of the shipyard.
Collins says that funding is important for both national security and the success of BIW workers and their families. BIW provides about 6,000 jobs in Maine that pay well, require high skill levels, and employ people from all 16 counties. It also helps to support workers in other industries, such as restaurants and smaller businesses that provide parts used for shipbuilding.
Collins says Monday's visit is "prestigious" and designed to heighten appreciation for the work done at BIW. The hope is the shipyard can continue to keep a steady flow of work to mitigate "peaks and valleys" of the workload for employees. That would help BIW to avoid a cycle of layoffs and rehiring.
"Without BIW, Maine's economy would really suffer a terrible blow," Sen. Collins said about the shipyard's importance to Maine. "Without BIW, the United States Navy would not be nearly as strong, and it would be overly dependent on just one other large shipyard that can build the kind of ships that BIW is renowned for building."
Collins is referring to Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Mississippi.
In a recorded video sent to NEWS CENTER Maine, Sen. King said the CNO wants to see how BIW builds its ships and what goes into that process. He says since last summer's strike, the relationship between unions and management at BIW is the best he has seen it in decades. He believes BIW will play an important part in Maine's future -- and hopes that stable relationship will continue.
"(BIW is) a very important part of Maine's economic future -- and these ships, as I mentioned, are really the workhorses of the Navy. So, as long as we can stay on schedule and keep competing, I think Bath is going to be there for the long haul."