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Bath Iron Works' Largest Union Votes to Strike

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File image courtesy Paul Vanderwerf / CC BY 2.0

By The Maritime Executive 06-21-2020 04:10:16

Bath Iron Works' largest union voted in favor of a strike on Sunday, one week after its negotiating committee firmly rejected the shipbuilder's contract offer.

With 85 percent of the membership participating, the strike authorization vote came in at 87 percent in favor of a walkout, Machinists Union Local S6 leader Chris Weirs told local media - well in excess of the two-thirds margin required. "BIW employees voted on Sunday not to accept the Company’s last, best and final offer for a new collective bargaining agreement. Employees also voted to authorize a strike," said Bath Iron Works communications principal David Hench in a statement Sunday. "We obviously are disappointed by this result, but are prepared should a strike occur. BIW will be making additional information available to its employees in the near-term so they can plan accordingly."

The strike is set to begin at exactly 0001 hours Monday morning. In a reminder, Local S6 let all third shift members know that they are to down tools leave at that time, regardless of any suggestions that they can finish their shift.

The union has been making preparations for a strike for some time, and it has already distributed benefits information and alternative employment options to its members. The vote was the culmination of  a tense back-and-forth between the union and the yard: in a heated missive released the day balloting began, the union's leaders accused BIW's top management of poor dealings during negotiations. "We need to vote this contract down, go on strike, and disregard these repeated attempts to sell this garbage contract," the negotiating committee wrote.

The committee contends that BIW's proposed wage increase of three percent per year is not generous enough: a first-class mechanic would receive a wage of $26.57 per hour, about 20 percent less than the $33.04 earned by a first-class mechanic at General Dynamics' sub-building Electric Boat subsidiary. Additionally, the committee contends that the contract wording gives BIW too much leeway for the hiring of non-union contractors and would undercut seniority with changes to work rules. 

The union's call for higher pay follows a long string of commercial losses for BIW. The yard is already behind on the delivery schedule for its core contract, the U.S. Navy's Arleigh Burke-class destroyer series. That delay likely contributed to the failure of Bath's bid for the Navy's $5.6 billion FFG(X) frigate class, BIW president Dirk Lesko told the Portland Press Herald last month. Earlier this year, the Pentagon raised the possibility of reducing acquision of future Arleigh Burke-class hulls in order to free up funds for smaller, more affordable optionally-manned vessels - a move that would have an impact on BIW's bottom line. 

In 2016, BIW lost its bid for the U.S. Coast Guard's future Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC) class - the largest shipbuilding contract in Coast Guard history - to a yard with a lower-cost proposal. BIW also has seen procurement plans for its Zumwalt-class destroyer series reduced from 32 ships to three due to cost overruns and delays.