Strike at Bath Iron Works Nears One-Month Mark

The Zumwalt-class destroyer USS Lyndon B. Johnson at BIW, May 2020 (BIW)

Published Jul 19, 2020 6:51 PM by The Maritime Executive

Federal mediation efforts continue as the strike at Maine shipbuilder Bath Iron Works nears the one-month mark. 

BIW's largest union, the Machinists' Union Local S6, rejected the yard's contract proposal and staged a walkout on June 22. The union's objections center on seniority and work rules, particularly on the yard's desire to hire in non-union contractors. Bath is months behind schedule on its core U.S. Navy destroyer contract, and its managers contend that they need to bring in contract workers - as well as new union employees - in order to keep up. 

For the past month, 4,300 members of the union have been out on strike and picketing BIW's gates, and Bath's management has taken extraordinary measures to keep production moving. In addition to assigning managers to front-line work, they have hired in more contractors during the strike, offering favorable wages of $28 per hour and up. Local S6 has accused Bath of attempting to break the union by having non-members (and former members) cross the picket line. 

Earlier this month, Local S6 alleged that BIW was attempting to lure union members back in without a contract by mailing them instructions on how to give up their membership. The union threatened financial consequences for any workers who took up the offer. “Once we return to work, anyone who took the advice from management and resigned from the union will still be required to pay full union dues,” Local S6 said in a statement last week. “The union will fine every single member who crossed the picket line for the total amount of wages they individually earned from BIW until the strike is over.”

Bath filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board over this statement, accusing Local S6 of threatening BIW employees. “We are extremely disappointed that union leaders would make false and threatening statements to the very employees they are supposed to represent,” BIW president Dirk Lesko said in a statement. 

Local S6's negotiating committee will meet with a federal mediator again on Tuesday morning. BIW says that it is fully engaged with the mediation process and wants a contract that will keep the yard competitive.

The strike action follows a long string of commercial losses for BIW. The yard is behind on the delivery schedule for its core destroyer contract, and 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 earlier this year. The Pentagon has also 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.