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Lawmakers And National Union Leaders Gather With BIW Strikers At Solidarity Rally

Maine Public
IAM Local S6 President Chris Wiers speaking Saturday at the union solidarity rally in Bath

Lawmakers and national union leaders rallied alongside members of Bath Iron Works’ largest union Saturday as the union continues to vote on a tentative contract agreement after a two-month long strike.

Machinists Union Local S6, which represents more than 4,000 employees at the shipyard, overwhelmingly voted to strike in late June over a contract proposal that union leaders say would have allowed in more out-of-state contractors and threatened seniority rights.

After weeks of little communication, the two sides ultimately came together with the help of a federal mediator and agreed on a tentative three-year contract in early August. The union’s negotiating committee unanimously supported the agreement, with leaders saying it adequately addresses its issues going forward.

On Saturday, legislators and union leaders commended the union for persevering for what they perceive as a fair contract, despite going weeks with limited pay and benefits.

"They thought that their money and their power would beat your solidarity, because of the pandemic and high unemployment. They all said the cards were stacked against you," Machinists Union International President Robert Martinez told the gathered union members outside the union hall on Saturday. "You know what you did? You said, hell no -- not on our watch, Bath Iron Works and General Dynamics."

Kevin Roberts, an electrician who was hired by BIW in December, acknowledged that the financial impact of the strike had been difficult on his family and had required him to find another job to make up lost income. But Roberts says he's glad that the union has remained strong throughout the strike and says the new contract will help workers like him for years to come.

"I don't think any contract can ever be a perfect contract, because it has to benefit both parties. But we got what we were looking for, more than anything else," Roberts says.

In a statement after the tentative agreement was reached, BIW President Dirk Lesko said that he thanked the negotiators and hoped to see union members return to work soon.

"This agreement, coupled with our hiring initiatives and major investments in facilities and production processes, positions BIW and LS6 to partner together to improve schedule performance, restore the yard’s competitiveness and ensure Bath Built remains Best Built for generations to come," Lesko said.

Union members were scheduled to vote on the tentative contract agreement online or by phone from Friday through Sunday at noon. If ratified, union members will return to work on Monday.