Bath shipyard workers’ strike gains solidarity

Hundreds rally in face of bosses push to impose attacks on union

By Ved Dookhun
July 20, 2020
Picket line near entrance to Bath Iron Works in Maine July 3. Bosses want to scuttle seniority rights, step up use of nonunion subcontractors in attack on union, conditions on the job.
Militant/Laura AndersonPicket line near entrance to Bath Iron Works in Maine July 3. Bosses want to scuttle seniority rights, step up use of nonunion subcontractors in attack on union, conditions on the job.

BATH, Maine — Some 350 striking shipbuilders, family members and supporters took part in a July 3 “Solidarity Pig Roast” at the Machinists Local S6 union hall here. The event was sponsored by local members, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 567, and three small area businesses. The mood was defiant as the company had announced the day before it was hiring more subcontractors to fill the jobs of Machinists on strike.

“They are trying to scare people,” striker Jaimie Bellefleur told me. “They say they’re going to bring in 500 temporary workers, but that won’t fill our 4,300 jobs. We’re going to wait it out.”

The bosses’ demand to use more contract workers is one of the central issues in the strike, along with company demands to weaken seniority protection and increase workers’ health care costs. The strike by International Association of Machinists Local S6’s 4,300 members is against Bath Iron Works, a major shipyard with contracts to build 11 Arleigh Burke-class destroyers for the Navy. It is in its third week.

This Militant worker-correspondent — a furloughed rail worker — was joined by others from Albany, New York, and Boston, as well as by Alyson Kennedy and Malcolm Jarrett, the Socialist Workers Party candidates for president and vice president, to bring solidarity to the strikers.

“Under the contract the company wanted us to sign, they could assign you to any job related to your trade,” Jerry Roy, who has worked at Bath Iron Works for 39 years, told us at the pig roast. “They could also use this to punish workers for filing grievances.”

“I thought a lot of younger workers would vote for the contract. When I heard the vote was 87% against, you could have knocked me over with a feather,” he said. “The company tried to get votes offering a $1,200 signing bonus, but it failed.”

“The company wants it so that they can put you anywhere,” agreed Sean Diaz, who has worked at the shipyard for a year. “They are trying to do this to senior workers, to break the union.”

Mike Hill, a pipe fitter who worked at a nonunion paper mill before getting hired at the shipyard, said, “Even today people talk about the 1987 strike, it’s like night and day working here compared to the mill, where the bosses  broke the Paperworkers’ union” at the International Paper mill.

“I was excited too to see 87% in favor,” he said, “and we’re still standing strong.”

Parker Robitaille told us he was 20 and working his first union job. “I’m glad people are standing up for what they believe in, even though they are sacrificing income,” he said. “I feel part of something, it’s more than just a job for me.”

Aaron Towle, a welder at Bath Iron Works for five years, explained his 2 year old had surgery scheduled for June 26 only to be informed by the company that they will be losing health insurance June 30. “We’re looking at having to pay $2,200 a month for a family,” he said. “They hope we’ll go broke.

“The last time we voted we gave them what they wanted and took no raises,” he said, describing the 2015 contract negotiations. “Not this time.”

Among those at the solidarity roast were members of IAM Local S7, which represents 300 clerical workers at the shipyard. They aren’t on strike but members join the picket line. One of them I met was Britni Beaulieu, who works as a packager and said she’s a fourth generation shipyard worker.

“Our contract comes up in April, and what happens in this strike will also affect us,” she said.

In an effort to try and pit the two unions against each other and weaken the strike, the company announced July 7 that it was going to lay off some members of IAM Local S7, even though they’re hiring contract workers.

“The disruption of the strike leaves us no other option,” Bath Iron Works President Dirk Lesko wrote in a letter sent to Local S7 workers.

“These layoffs are BIW’s way of putting pressure on Local S6,” George Edwards from Local S7 told the Portland Press Herald. “Lesko just wants to break the union. He could easily end the strike by going back to the negotiating table. Our members know what the company is trying to do and we stand behind Local S6.”

In an effort to get negotiations restarted, Local S6 asked federal mediators to set up meetings with both the union and the company. The local’s negotiating committee met with the mediators July 7. But company spokesman David Hench told the press he wouldn’t comment on if, or when, management will meet with the mediators.

The city cops threatened the strikers’ pig roast. Saying that the state government had issued a ban on gatherings of over 50 people because of the coronavirus, they told the press they might move to shut down the pig roast if more than that showed up. They didn’t follow through.

Solidarity growing

Solidarity keeps growing in support of the strike. When I was on the picket line July 1, I met Dean Staffieri, a member of the Maine Service Employees Association. He told me the union supports the strike, adding “If you can’t stand in solidarity you lose.”

IAM Local 2326 in Clinton raised and sent in a contribution of $614. Members of IAM Local 207, the Lobstermen’s union, joined the picketing in solidarity, as did IBEW Local 1505 members.

We brought a card signed by 16 Walmart workers at a store in Albany, which was presented to the union leadership at the pig roast.

There are important stakes in this battle. Help build solidarity for the shipbuilders on strike 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

The strikers’ next public event is a combination Cornhole tournament and chili-and-ribs cook-off at the union hall July 10 from 2 to 8 p.m. In addition to the competitors’ main courses, the union says other food will be available to “all Local S6 members, friends and family.”