Three weeks after local union leadership reached a tentative agreement with Bath Iron Works, members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers voted online and by telephone to confirm the agreement and seal the deal. According to the IAM, 87% of 4,300 Local S6 members voted to approve the three-year collective bargaining agreement with the Bath, Maine-based shipbuilding company and put an end to the strike, which lasted a total of 63 days. They will return to work Monday, August 24, building destroyers for the U.S. Navy.
Local union leadership voted to begin the strike June 22 shortly after receiving a “best offer” from General Dynamics, which operates Bath Iron Works. According to the union, the initial contract offered included unwelcome changes to worker seniority and subcontractor policies. The latest contract, reached with the help of federal mediators, “includes strong job protections against expanded subcontracting and preserves seniority rights,” according to the IAM.
According to the Associated Press, the agreement also includes the original proposal’s annual raise schedule of 3% for the three-year lifetime of the agreement and streamlined rules for subcontracting, a sticking point in negotiations. In a pair of dueling editorials published by the Portland Press Herald, IAM Local S6 President Chris Weirs and Jon A. Fitzgerald, vice president of BIW argued over the necessity of subcontractors: Weirs, in his piece, said that BIW was attempting to outsource jobs to out-of-state contractors, to which Fitzgerald responded that existing subcontracting policy made it onerous for the company to hire people for seasonal tasks like shoveling snow.
Statements from union leadership and BIW emphasized the need for Bath Iron Works to return to work speedily: the AP reports that General Dynamics was already behind schedule at the facility by more than six months before the strike began. Tension between workers and management increased before the strike as earlier cuts, intended to keep BIW from getting priced out of Navy contracts, resulted in fewer new contracts than hoped for by management.
“This contract reflects the commitment of all BIW employees to improve schedule performance and the economic package ensures that manufacturing careers at BIW continue to be among the very best,” read a statement from Bath Iron Works.
Local S6 President Wiers said the strike was a “testament” to local union leadership, its negotiating committee and “the incredible power of solidarity shown by our membership.” “Now that we successfully protected our contract language with respect to subcontracting and seniority, we need to get back to work and continue to prove to the U.S. Navy that ‘S6 built is best built.’”