Bath Iron Works has announced that it will temporarily lay off workers as a strike from its largest union extends into a third week.
In a letter to employees on Tuesday, BIW President Dirk Lesko said that after thousands of Local S6 workers walked off the job last month, the company’s productions levels are “well below typical operations and even further below where we need to be.”
Lesko says the company has attempted to move around employees and is looking to add more contractors. But he says some workers, such as surveyors and trades inspectors with union Local S7, “are beginning to run out of work to do,” leading the company to lay some off.
“While these layoffs are temporary in nature, their impact on employees and their families is real and immediate. At a time when we are behind schedule, it is frustrating to be sending our employees home,” Lesko says. “However, the disruption of the strike leaves no other option.”
George Edwards, a representative for the Machinists Union District Lodge 4, which oversees both Local S6 and Local S7, says the union is upset about the layoffs and puts the blame on the company's contract offer.
"[Lesko has] created this problem. Now he's trying to put it on the fact — the union didn't walk off the job. The company forced them off the job with their last, best, and final [offer]," Edwards says. "He did that. He controls that process."
The company provided few details on the number of workers who could be laid off, but Edwards says there are about 25-30 employees in the two job classifications that the company says will be affected. The layoffs will initially be voluntary, but the company says they could become involuntary in the future.
BIW and Local S6 are at odds over a contract offer that the union says would threaten seniority rights for many workers, as well as continue to bring out-of-state contractors into the shipyard. The company has touted that its contract proposal offers annual wage increases and continues retirement and pension plans.
Local S6 spokesperson Tim Suitter says that the vast majority of union members have made it clear that they’re unhappy with the company’s contract offer, and the union hopes BIW will soon return to the bargaining table.
“All we want is a fair contract,” Suitter says. “We’ve been clear with that. We just can’t seem to come through that.”
Local S6 representatives met with a federal mediator on Monday, and Suitter says representatives of BIW are scheduled to meet with the mediator later this week.
A BIW spokesperson did not immediately return a request for comment.
Updated 5:05 p.m. Tuesday, July 7, to add comment from George Edwards, a representative for the Machinists Union District Lodge 4, which oversees both Local S6 and Local S7.