Bath shipyard strikers discuss tentative deal, strike still on

By Ved Dookhun
August 24, 2020

After seven weeks of a bitter strike against demands by Bath Iron Works bosses for concessions that would weaken their union, International Association of Machinists Local S6 negotiating committee and the company reached a tentative agreement.

Voting is set for Aug. 21 to 23, giving strikers time to read and consider the new contract, and to ask questions or state their opinion. The strike will continue at least through the vote.

The central issue in the strike has been the bosses’ demand for an increase in the number of nonunion contract workers they can bring in to do work union shipbuilders normally do.

“The proposed contract seems pretty good,” striker Tiffany Briggs told the Militant in a phone call. “There’s a limit on how long subcontractors can be used.”

The unions summary of the proposed agreement says it will allow bosses some flexibility for the remainder of 2020 to catch up on production missed during the strike, but says “subcontracting will be phased out at the end of the year.” There’s also a no layoff clause for 2020.

“The strike was effective, we proved our point and will not be bullied by the company,” Briggs said.

The Bath shipyard is a division of General Dynamics, one of the largest military contractors in the country. Bath Iron Works, with 6,800 workers, 4,300 of whom are in Local S6, builds destroyers for the Navy.

One thing that riled strikers was the fact that General Dynamics executives were pulling down huge salaries, while demanding cuts on workers at Bath. The bosses thought they could count on pitting newer workers — they hired 1,800 last year — against veteran union members. They were wrong. Everyone on the picket line comments on the unity inside the union in deciding to strike, enthusiastically preparing for it and in staffing the picket lines.

The proposed agreement summary also reports the bosses backed off from another of their most serious attacks on the workers, seeking to undercut seniority. This protection remains in job bids, shift assignments, overtime and elsewhere.

The company did get some concessions. Health care costs will go up, but less than bosses demanded. The “last, best” company offer had a 5% annual increase, but the proposal now is for a 4% increase in the first year and 3% in each of the next two.

“The agreement sounds acceptable,” Bill Cullivan, a sheet metal mechanic, told the Militant. “BIW should have made this offer in the first place. We will picket up until the 23rd, when they count the votes.”

“We did take a hit,” he said, pointing to the lost wages during the strike. “But we had to do it. We couldn’t live with what they were proposing.”

One factor, workers pointed out, was the widespread solidarity they got from unions, small businesses and individual workers in Bath and far beyond.

On Aug. 10, when weekly strike pay was handed out at the Bath Senior Center, there were people from the Bath Area Food Bank and Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program giving out provisions, as well as box lunches and fresh produce. Midcoast Maine Community Action was coordinating help to those needing it on rent and utility bills. And volunteers from Dogwill, a food bank for pets, were there too.

This is an important labor battle, with stakes for all working people. Go and join their picket lines. Send solidarity and contributions to IAM Local S6, 722 Washington St., Bath, ME 04530.