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Union Leaders at BIW Prepare for a Potential Strike

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USS Zumwalt departs BIW for sea trials, 2016 (USN)

By The Maritime Executive 06-17-2020 06:27:33

The leaders of the largest union at General Dynamics' Bath Iron Works (BIW) shipyard are gearing up for the possibility of a strike, distributing resources on related benefits and employment options to their membership in preparation.

The contract for IAM Local S6 - which represents the majority of BIW's workforce - is set to expire Sunday with the end of a coronavirus-related extension period. In a concise message posted last weekend, the union's negotiating committee rejected the shipyard's "last, best and final" contract offer. 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. 

“Now is the time to reward dedicated workers who have risked their health to maintain production,” said IAW international president Robert Martinez Jr. in a letter to BIW's management. “Sadly, it appears that BIW has chosen to take another path, as evidenced by the current negotiations."

The union's membership has not yet voted on the contract proposal. In a message to members, the negotiating committee urged them to turn it down and hold out for more favorable terms. "We wholeheartedly believe a better offer is waiting in the wings if we reject the current garbage offer," asserted the committee. The message was followed by an explanation of "benefits information should we be on strike next week" and a list of "strike job postings."

The union's call for higher pay follows a long string of commercial losses for BIW. The yard is 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.