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BIW Union Votes To Approve Contract, Ending Months-Long Strike

Willis Ryder Arnold
Maine Public
BIW's largest union voted to ratify a proposed contract with the company, ending the strike after ten weeks.

Union members have ratified a new contract with Bath Iron Works.

"You know we took on Goliath and we held our own."

Jay Wadleighn, who served on the union's negotiating team, says the two month strike was financially tough on members. But he says workers were adamant that they should hold the line on unacceptable parts of the contract — such as normalizing the use of subcontract labor for ship building projects. He says holding out on that point led to mediation, which led to a better long-term solution.

"If we had just taken their original offer and not had this sort of collaborative effort at the end, my opinion is that would have just been a band aid,” he says. “Bringing in subcontractors to try to catch up is just a band aid, you need to look at the real issues and fix some of the real problems in scheduling and material. That's the way you're going to secure long-term work, not by putting band aids on it."

The new agreement does allow the company to use some subcontract labor to the end of the year to help with the backlog of work.

Wadleigh, who also experienced a prolonged strike at the shipyard 20 years ago, says the two-month walk off was tough for families, but, he says, unlike the action in 2000, there was significant unity to keep going.

"This strike was really for the younger people,” he says. “The people with 30 years that are already eligible for retirement, they're not going to see the long-term benefits of this. They've only got a few years left. But the younger people? This helps secure their future."

Wadleigh says union workers and company managers will now meet weekly to tackle production issues that arise, and that workers are feeling energized and ready to head back to the floor.

“Hopefully we go back to work, the union and company collaborate, and find ways to get back on schedule,” says Wadleigh. “And they listen to the workers, and they institute some of the ideas. And once we're back on schedule then we should be able to win work left and right.”

BIW officials said in a statement Sunday it was looking forward to welcoming workers back on the floor. The statement goes on to say that the company and unions would need to work together to get ships built for the U.S. Navy and meet its critical obligations "on time, every time."

Workers can return to the job as soon as Monday, August 24, with two later return dates also available to employees.

The contract will be in effect for three years.

Updated 2:17 p.m. August 23, 2020.