BATH, Maine — Senator Angus King summed it up at an afternoon press conference.
“What we’re seeing is a kind of rebirth of this great shipyard,” King said as he stood beside Sen. Susan Collins and Rep. Chellie Pingree.
The three lawmakers had just finished a tour of the yard with Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Harker. Planned to introduce him to BIW, in hopes he will support more ship contracts for the company and its 6,900 workers.
The Senators and Rep. Pingree had high praise for what they saw and heard during the visit, saying the change from a year ago was noticeable.
One year ago, emotions were running high at the yard as union and management were headed toward an eventual strike.
This year, said Pingree, the two former antagonists are working together.
“I think one of the truly impressive things I saw today, and between Local 6 and BIW, is the sense of cooperation in coming together.”
BIW’s President said in a recent newsletter that they are working with the union to increase shipbuilding efficiency, and reduce the delays that had put one ship as much a nine months behind schedule last year.
With the help of the new cooperative relationship, the destroyer has now been largely completed and delivered to the Navy, and work is progressing on others.
The company said it has 11 other ships to deliver by 2027.
Collins, King, and Pingree said they believe Secretary Harker understood the changes that have been made and the strides the company and union have made to speed up the work.
BIW said it is getting closer to its goal of completing two ships each year.
Meeting that goal may be critical to securing new shipbuilding contracts for the years ahead, and for increasing the number of ships being built.
Sen. Susan Collins said the Congressional delegation will be pushing Congress, the Navy, and the Biden Administration for a new, multi-year contract for DDG-51 destroyers, which are the primary product built at BIW. Collins and King both said the country needs a larger fleet of ships to counter expansion by Russia and China and said the DDG-51 is the “workhorse” of the Navy fleet.
“You see our Navy deployed everywhere, to every trouble spot in the world, and there are a lot of them. You have only to look at what China is doing, building up its number of ships and submarines, to understand the challenge we are facing.”
“Both China and Russia are on significant build-ups. I hesitate to call it an arms race but it's getting close to that. And the best way to make sure these ships are never used is to have them ready, have them ready as a deterrent.”
Pingree said that, despite already large spending by the Biden Administration on the COVID relief plan, and the proposed new infrastructure package, she expects the Biden administration will strongly support the military, including the Navy.
The results of those talks will have a direct impact on Maine jobs. BIW said it currently employs 6,900 people and has hired 500 new workers so far this year, with a goal of 2,000 new workers. The workforce won’t be expanding by that number, a spokesman said, as many of the new hires are to replace veteran workers who are expected to retire.
The Senators and Pingree joined Secretary Harker after the BIW tour for a late afternoon visit to Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, a Navy submarine repair facility with a large civilian workforce.