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Striking BIW union asks Navy to take a position on subcontracting issue

The 4,300-member union voted overwhelmingly on June 22 to reject the company's offer and also voted to strike.

BATH, Maine — Four weeks into a strike by the largest union at Bath Iron Works, the union's president on Friday wrote to U.S. Secretary of the Navy Kenneth Braithwaite asking for the Navy to take a position on additional subcontracting at the shipyard.

According to Chris Weirs, president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Local S6, BIW has made clear that their desire to increase their ability to outsource work is based on a strong recommendation from the Navy. Now the union wants the Navy to clarify whether or not that is in fact their recommendation.

In the letter, Wiers wrote in part, "At the crux of the disagreement is the Company's proposal to increase the frequency of subcontracting and to eliminate the Union's ability to provide input into the subcontracting decision. Through these negotiations, the Union has presented the Company with several workable solutions to adequately meet the workforce needs of BIW and our shared shipbuilding mission."

Wiers went on to write that it's unclear to members of the union whether or not BIW's claims that its subcontracting proposals are based on recommendations from the Navy accurately reflect the Navy's position on the issue.

"We truly hope the Company's assertions about the Navy's position are inaccurate. We strongly believe the changes in subcontracting language which the Company is pushing for will be detrimental to the skilled workforce at BIW and the Navy's shipbuilding mission," Wiers wrote.

As of Tuesday morning, Wiers said he had not received a response from the Navy. NEWS CENTER Maine has also reached out to the U.S. Navy for comment.

BIW Spokesperson David Hench responded to NEWS CENTER Maine's request for comment Monday with the following: 'I’ll have to refer you to the Navy for any questions about that.'

Wiers' entire letter can be found HERE.

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Wiers' letter to the Navy was sent the same week that the union's national office on Tuesday wrote to members of Congress asking for their help with stalled contract negotiations.

In the letter, IAM International President Robert Martinez Jr. wrote, "We ask that you start by sending a strong reminder to the company of its commitment to these workers, U.S. taxpayers, and our men and women in uniform who rely on world-class ships built by world-class workers."

The union has requested the assistance of a federal mediator and has asked President Donald Trump for support.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, has urged BIW "to make a fair offer."

In a release Tuesday, the union said BIW's argument that it can't hire enough workers is insincere, and that instead the company simply "refuses to offer sufficient entry-level wages."

On Thursday, BIW filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, charging striking Local S6 members with violating the National Labor Relations Act by allegedly threatening union members who cross the picket line and return to work.

Local S6 leadership posted a warning that anyone who chooses to cross the pickets will be fined after the strike is over. The message also suggested "scabs" should be drowned or hanged.

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