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Bath Iron Works Strikers, Shipyard Reach Tentative Deal

General Dynamics Bath Iron Works shipyard in 2018. BIW Photo

After partaking in mediation proceedings the last few weeks, striking shipbuilders at General Dynamics Bath Iron Works and the shipyard have come to a preliminary agreement to return to work.

BIW and the local union chapter each announced the deal over the weekend.

“This process was emotional, difficult, and frustrating for both parties. Being able to reach a tentative agreement to bring back to our membership that keeps our subcontracting language unchanged, continues to protect seniority, and attain a modest economic package is what we were able to do,” the Local S6 chapter of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers wrote in a post on its website.
“We believe this agreement gives BIW the tools they need to have, and the ability to respond to the unpredictability of their day to day needs,” the post continues. “This was a testament to the power of collective bargaining and a strong educated unit that backed the Local S6 Negotiating Committee.”

The accord is slated to last three years and tackles the issue of subcontracting, which was one of the main sticking points between BIW and the union.

“We worked hand-in-hand with the union negotiating committee to ensure that we addressed the concerns of our valued employees,” Dirk Lesko, the president of BIW, said in a statement. “We are hopeful they will return to work soon so we can get on with our important mission of building ships for the U.S. Navy.”

The panel that participated in negotiations on behalf of the Local S6 chapter said it “unanimously endorses” the agreement and will hold a vote.

“Bath Iron Works is printing copies of the proposal and will be mailing it out ASAP, allowing everyone to read it and ask questions so you can accurately vote,” the chapter wrote on its website.

The union initiated its strike on June 22 after negotiations between members and the shipyard failed to achieve a deal, with the union and BIW having disagreements over the practice of subcontracting and seniority. BIW argued that to pursue its workload, the shipyard needed the latitude to use subcontractors when necessary and allocate tasks to workers that may fall out of their regular purview. Meanwhile, the union contended that BIW’s subcontracting removes jobs that would go to its members and expressed concern over how task allocation could affect seniority.

The deal comes after the local chapter last month made an appeal to Navy Secretary Ken Braithwaite and IAMAW wrote to lawmakers. Each letter criticized BIW’s use of subcontracting.

BIW, located in Bath, Maine, is building the Navy’s Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, in addition to the third and final destroyer in the Zumwalt class. USNI News last month reported that the logjam at the yard, which BIW’s president earlier this year estimated at six months, is approaching one year because of the strike and the coronavirus pandemic.

During negotiations before the strike, BIW cited its backlog as one reason it lost a bid for the Navy’s recent FFG(X) award, which went to Wisconsin’s Fincantieri.

“This agreement, coupled with our hiring initiatives and major investments in facilities and production processes, positions BIW and LS6 to partner together to improve schedule performance, restore the yard’s competitiveness and ensure Bath Built remains Best Built for generations to come,” Lesko said in a statement about the preliminary deal.