Bath Iron Works Strike Grinds on & COVID Hits the Picket Line
WASHINGTON: As the strike at Bath Iron Works in Maine moves into its second week, there are no signs the labor union representing 4,300 workers and the shipyard will talk any time soon.
Since union members voted to strike on June 21, the company has lost out on a new $900 million destroyer contract to rival Huntington Ingalls, and three striking union members have been diagnosed with COVID-19.
Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah opened an investigation yesterday at Bath after the workers tested positive, bringing the total to four cases at the shipyard. General Dynamics, BIW’s parent company, wrote on its Facebook page that any workers who had been working on the hull of the future USS Carl M. Levin in dock, or been on the picket line between June 22-24, should get tested.
The primary issue between the union and the company isn’t pay — the union was offered annual 3% raises for the next three years. The sticking point remains the use of non-union contractors to do some work at the shipyard, a situation General Dynamics CEO Phebe Novakovic said doesn’t affect the company’s support for the union.
General Dynamics paid $13 million in 2019 to train 1,500 unionized workers at Bath, Novakovic said in a June 25 letter to International Association of Machinists President Robert Martinez — marking the first time the company has reached out to the union’s national leadership.
“This contract puts us at a competitive disadvantage” as the company tries to get back months of schedule slippages on the destroyer work, Novakovic wrote. “We must be responsive to the changes in our workforce, our shipyard and the needs of our customer. We are not currently.”
She adds that the company has tried to meet the Navy’s production demands within the structure of the current contract, but without the extra workers to fill in the gaps, it will be difficult to perform the work that needs to be done.
The Levin is one of the six Arleigh Burke-class destroyers in the docks at Bath, along with a Zumwalt-class destroyer, all of which are as much as six months behind schedule, according to BIW President Dirk Lesko.
The work stoppage comes as yet another blow to the GD-operated shipyard. In April, the company lost the bid for the $795 million contract to build the first 10 of a new class of guided missile frigates when Wisconsin-based Fincantieri Marinette Marine received the award. The company also lost out on a hard-fought effort to build the Coast Guard’s Offshore Patrol Cutters in 2016.
Overall, the Navy has awarded contracts for 89 Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, 47 to Bath and 42 to Huntington Ingalls. Of those, Bath has delivered 36 ships, and Huntington 32, pointing to years of work ahead for the Bath shipyard.
While Bath lost the latest destroyer contract, it turns out the decision was made before the strike, Navy spokesman Capt. Danny Hernandez said. The ship is the third Arleigh Burke that Congress awarded in the 2020 budget, which the Navy opened to both Bath and Huntington Ingalls to compete for, provided they drive the cost down. Huntington won.