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Union claims victory on major issues in proposed contract with Bath Iron Works

Members of Local S6 of the Machinists Union will continue to picket outside BIW facilities until a contract is ratified. They are scheduled to vote later this month.
Credit: AP
FILE - Striking Bath Iron Works shipbuilders march in solidarity, Saturday, July 25, 2020, in Bath, Maine.

Seven weeks after members of the largest union at Bath Iron Works walked off the job and onto the picket line to protest what they said was an unfair contract offer, leaders of that union said Monday that the agreement reached Saturday was largely a win for the union.

The tentative agreement, to be voted on later this month by the union's 4,300 members, keeps language regarding subcontracting and seniority largely unchanged, and includes a three-percent raise for the duration of the contract, according to Jay Wadleigh, district representative for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.

Workers will continue to picket outside the company's various facilities until a contract is ratified, but Wadleigh said Monday he expects the proposed agreement reached Saturday to be approved.

Negotiations, which union leadership described as "emotional, difficult and frustrating," took place at Brunswick Landing in Brunswick over five long days and nights last week, Wadleigh said.

Each side was represented by approximately a dozen people, he said, including BIW President Dirk Lesko and Robert Smith, executive vice president of General Dynamics, which owns Bath Iron Works. Also present were Rich Giacolone, deputy director of the Federal Mediation Conciliation Service who the union said was appointed by President Donald Trump to assist with mediation and IAM International President Robert Martinez.

Early Saturday afternoon, BIW announced a tentative agreement had been reached to extend through Aug. 20, 2023.

"The agreement addresses the use of subcontractors as well as several work rules that will allow the parties to work together to accelerate BIW’s schedule performance while also increasing employment stability," the company stated. "The [tentative agreement] also includes an economic package with 3 percent wage increases in each year and continuation of existing benefits to include healthcare plans and a pension."

Lesko said, in part, that federal mediators would continue to work with both parties to implement the agreement if ratified.

“This agreement, coupled with our hiring initiatives and major investments in facilities and production processes, positions BIW and LS6 to partner together to improve schedule performance, restore the yard’s competitiveness and ensure Bath Built remains Best Built for generations to come," he said in the statement.

Wadleigh, a former Local S6 president who negotiated the union's previous contract, said Monday that language regarding how the company can use subcontractors "doesn't change" from the previous contract, although the union agreed to allow subcontractors to remain at the yard throughout the remainder of 2020 "to let us get back on schedule."

"They were going to be there until December anyway," Wadleigh said, referring to estimates of the length of a strike should an agreement not be reached. "This was the best compromise to preserve our language.

The agreement also includes a "no layoff" clause for 2020.

Another sticking point, regarding the adherence to seniority practices, remains the same unless the company can prove a business need to choose other employees, Wadleigh said.

Finally, a proposal to allow the company to "cross-trade" employees to perform functions other than those they are trained for was modified to allow an employee to do any of 22 different tasks if waiting for the job to be done holds up their work

Wadleigh said the contract also includes "a new collaboration with union leadership and senior BIW management, with weekly meetings to try to figure out how to recover our schedule."

Those meetings will be overseen by federal mediators.

Finally, Wadleigh said the three-percent raises will be retroactive to May.

BIW spokesman David Hench declined to comment on Monday, and referred to a statement Saturday by Giacolone, of the FMCS, who commended the parties for reaching resolution over "difficult and deep-seated issues that divided them."

Also on Saturday, General Dynamics CEO Phebe Novakovic issued a statement thanking, among others, Assistant to the President and Director of the Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy Peter Navarro "for their help in bringing the parties together."

On Monday, President Donald Trump tweeted his congratulations to General Dynamics, Bath Iron Works' parent company, and Local S6, on reaching a tentative agreement:

General Dynamics spokesman Jeff Davis said Monday he could not share any information about how Trump helped or why Novakovic thanked Navarro.

Prior to the 2020 strike, the most recent strike, in 2000, lasted 55 days.

Union members will vote online whether to ratify the agreement from Aug. 21 to Aug. 23.

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