Bath Iron Works Strikers Ready to Negotiate After Appeals to Congress, Navy

July 22, 2020 7:30 PM - Updated: July 22, 2020 7:51 PM
Following the multi-day process that includes
moving the ship from the land level facility to the dry dock which is then
slowly flooded until the ship is afloat, the future USS Lyndon B. Johnson
(DDG 1002) was launched at General Dynamics-Bath Iron Works shipyard on Dec. 9, 2018. US Navy photo courtesy Bath Iron Works

After waging a campaign to lobby Congress and the Navy, the workers at General Dynamics Bath Iron Works want to head back to the negotiating table with the shipbuilder.

Following weeks of striking over BIW’s use of subcontracting, the local union chapter talked to a mediator on Tuesday and is seeking a face-to-face meeting with BIW.

“Nothing specific was discussed from the Company’s perspective due to the Mediator’s confidentiality agreements with both parties,” the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers’ Local S6 chapter wrote on its website Tuesday. “We have consistently been ready and willing to get back to the bargaining table to negotiate a fair contract for our members.”

Today the local chapter posted a letter it received from BIW President Dirk Lesko in response to proposals the union sent earlier this month.

“BIW needs efficient and timely access to every resource possible to get back on track and regain our competitive position. The process for engaging subcontractors under the existing contract language has failed us all in that regard,” Lesko wrote in the letter, which is dated July 21.

“However, let me assure you that BIW will not use the flexibility we seek in subcontracting to replace IAM jobs. BIW would engage subcontractors in a way that continues to be fair to your members and our employees,” he continued.

Lesko’s letter also references the issue of seniority, another sticking point in the negotiations between the union and BIW.

“Let me confirm to you that we respect the key elements of seniority,” Lesko wrote. “BIW does, however, need the ability to make work assignments that meet business needs –which do not always align with the direct application of seniority.”

The letter from Lesko follows the local chapter’s appeal to Navy Secretary Ken Braithwaite and IAMAW’s letter to Congress. Both letters decry BIW’s use of subcontractors and the letter to Braithwaite asks for the Navy to explain its stance on whether it believes BIW should ramp up subcontracting.

The union argues subcontracting takes away jobs from its members and that BIW wants to exclude the union from the choice to employ subcontractors.

“Throughout our contract negotiations and previous discussions during the joint agreement process, which lasted more than ten months, we have had numerous conversations with BIW regarding subcontracting,” the Local S6 chapter wrote in a letter, dated July 17, to Braithwaite.

“Consistently throughout these negotiations, the Company has made clear, both implicitly and explicitly, that their desire to increase their ability to outsource work is based heavily on the Navy’s strong endorsement of additional subcontracting at BIW,” the letter continues.

Asked for comment on the letter to Braithwaite and the union’s conversation with a mediator, BIW spokesman Dave Hench told USNI News, “We remain actively engaged in the federal mediation process.”

A spokeswoman for Braithwaite declined to comment on the letter from the union. Jay Wadleigh, a business district manager for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers’ District 4, told USNI News today it had yet to receive a response from the Navy secretary.

BIW is currently building several of the Navy’s Arleigh Burke-class destroyers and the last Zumwalt-class destroyer. A source told USNI News that the backlog of construction work at the Maine shipyard, which Lesko had pegged at six months earlier this year, is now closer to a full year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the strike.

The letter to Braithwaite came after tensions between the union and BIW boiled over earlier this month. The Local S6 chapter in a July 9 statement accused BIW of disseminating “propaganda” on ways employees could quit the union, told members that working for BIW during the strike would result in fines and a forfeiture of benefits, and that employees who leave will still owe union fees.

BIW responded by lodging a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board over the Local S6 statement and refuted the union’s claims in a post on its website.

“This is false,” the BIW website says of the union’s statement on dues. “Employees who resign from the Union have the right under labor laws to pay reduced fees, including after the strike.”

BIW also accused the Local S6 chapter of “threatening employees who choose to work during the strike with physical and financial harm,” an apparent reference to a line at the end of the union’s July 9 statement.

“No man has a right to scab so long as there is a pool of water to drown his carcass in, or a rope long enough to hang this body with,” the note to union members read.

Wadleigh pointed out that the quote is from a Jack London poem.

“They mistook it as a threat. It was not a threat,” Wadleigh told USNI News today.

Mallory Shelbourne

Mallory Shelbourne

Mallory Shelbourne is a reporter for USNI News. She previously covered the Navy for Inside Defense and reported on politics for The Hill.
Follow @MalShelbourne

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