BATH, Maine — Over 4,300 members of Machinists Local S6 have entered the second week on strike against Bath Iron Works, a subsidiary of General Dynamics that builds destroyers and other ships for the Navy and is Maine’s largest private employer. The bosses are trying to force workers to accept increased use of contract workers and weakened union protection of seniority that together deal blows to job security and pay for union workers and future generations.
The bosses claim they need to streamline operations to lower prices and remain competitive. The bosses also insist on increasing health care costs.
“From what I see, everyone is on board with the strike,” Nate Bartlett, who has worked in the shipyard for five years, told this Militant worker-correspondent, who was on the picket line July 1 to extend solidarity, along with Alyson Kennedy and Malcolm Jarrett, the Socialist Workers Party candidates for president and vice president. “With this contract they could move you wherever they want outside of seniority.”
John Rodriguez came to Bath from Seattle, where he worked as a baggage handler at the airport and was part of the fight for a $15 minimum wage. “The key issue in the strike is that the company wants to use cheaper subcontractors to be able to lay us off,” he said.
“We needed the strike, we took too many concessions in the last negotiations in 2015. I’m very glad that 87% of the union voted to go out,” said Justin Combs, who has worked five years in the electric shop. “I was one of the 20 workers the company tried to discipline for participating in the hourly ‘hammer’ protests in the two weeks before the strike deadline.”
Workers stopped work every hour for one minute and hammered on steel around them, making a racket. “The company took us up to the fourth floor and told us to sit there,” Combs said. “So every hour when workers on the shop floor would start hammering, we would start shouting, ‘Strike! Strike!”’
The company is canceling workers’ Cigna health care as of July 1, to put more pressure on them. To pick up a Cobra plan can come to as much as $2,000 a month, with additional out-of-pocket costs.
The company announced June 29 that two more workers had tested positive for COVID-19, taking the total to six since March. City officials are using the announcement to threaten to interfere with the union and its activities. The state has adopted emergency orders that bar public gatherings over 50.
The union is organizing a July 3 “Solidarity Pig Roast” to rally support. The event is sponsored by several Local S6 members, IBEW Local 567 and three small local businesses. Bath Deputy Police Chief Andrew Booth said if there are too many people at the event, the police will ask them to disperse.
“The company doesn’t seem to have any interest in working through anything or getting back to the table soon,” union spokesperson Tim Suitter told the media. “Anything we can do for our members to keep up their spirits is what we’re going to continue to do.”
In face of the company’s refusal to resume negotiations, the union has sought federal mediation. Strikers on the picket line told the Militant a session has been scheduled for July 6.
The bosses have used the local press to threaten workers with seeing their jobs disappear to Ingalls Shipbuilding in Mississippi, the only other yard that builds destroyers for the Navy.
Ingalls was awarded a $936 million contract to build a destroyer one week after the strikers walked off the job in Maine. Along with the Newport News shipyard in Virginia, Ingalls is a subsidiary of Huntington Ingalls. Together the two shipyards employ 37,000 workers.
Growing numbers of area workers are joining the shipyard workers’ picket lines or send in pictures in solidarity with the strike. They’ve gotten backing from the nurses’ union in Maine, construction workers, passing UPS drivers and a $2,000 contribution from a union at IGA grocers.
Help build solidarity for shipbuilders at Bath Iron Works. Join their picket lines. Get messages of support from your union, church or co-workers. Send messages and contributions to IAM Local S6, 722 Washington St., Bath, ME 04530, or contribute at https://www.paypal.me/LocalLodgeS6.
Laura Anderson from Albany, New York, contributed to this article.