The union that represents 760 workers at Bath Iron Works is accelerating preparations for a strike next week, even as a federal mediator was called in to resolve its contract dispute with the company. The ramp-up includes getting support from the biggest union at the yard, which declared its solidarity with the draftsmen Thursday.

On Sunday, an overwhelming majority of the Bath Marine Draftsmen’s Association voted down a proposed contract from BIW and authorized a strike. The members, mainly mechanical designers and technicians, are working on an extended contract until Sunday while trying to negotiate an agreement. The draftsmen’s association is an affiliate of the United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers, Local 3999.

UAW strike assistance personnel were expected to arrive Thursday in Bath to begin focused planning with local union volunteers, the union negotiating committee said in a Facebook post. The union said it also is working on strike strategy with the Maine AFL-CIO. The Bath union and the UAW regional office did not return phone calls seeking comment Thursday.

The proposed 4½-year contract voted down Sunday would have given workers two pay increases totaling 5.6 percent, lump-sum payments worth $6,000 and more retirement benefits and paid time off. The union wage scale is $18.05 to $34.96 per hour.

A major sticking point in negotiations is BIW’s proposal to cut flex time benefits that allow employees to vary when they come to and leave work during a 40-hour week. In a statement, the union said BIW proposed to eliminate most of the benefit. Vacation and sick time allowances have eroded since flex time was implemented, including a loss of 23 sick days in the union’s 2013 contract, according to the union. Flex time gives workers the ability to care for family members and personal health while increasing productivity, it said.

“Over the last several years, the union has experienced four years of wage freezes and the loss of pension benefits for new members. The proposed elimination of this non-economic benefit now, given the recognized positive impact, makes no sense and would only harm morale and productivity,” draftsmen’s association Vice President Trent Vellella said in the statement.

To help the two sides reach a resolution, a federal mediator was brought into the talks Wednesday, the negotiating committee said.

“We remain hopeful that we will be able to finalize a proposal the membership feels is acceptable to ratify. We have also continued to prepare for the possibility of a strike starting Monday, Sept. 25,” the committee said in its Facebook post. The last strike at the shipyard was in 2000 and lasted 55 days.

The draftsmen’s association represents workers who develop ship designs and technical drawings, plus laboratory technicians and material testers. Its membership accounts for about 13 percent of the shipyard’s total workforce of 6,000.

Loren Thompson, a Washington, D.C.-based defense analyst, said this week that a strike was unlikely to immediately disrupt production. The shipyard, which mainly builds warships for the U.S. Navy, is a subsidiary of General Dynamics. It currently is working on two Zumwalt-class destroyers and four Arleigh-Burke warships.

BIW spokesman David Hench said the company would not elaborate beyond saying it is negotiating in good faith.

As time runs out to finalize a contract, the draftsmen are getting support from members of Local S6 chapter of the Industrial Union of Marine and Shipbuilding Workers of America. Local S6 is the largest union at BIW, representing about 3,600 workers.

S6 members intend to back draftsmen on the picket line during their free time, make signs and otherwise support the union, but their labor agreement prohibits them from striking in support of another union, said S6 President Mike Keenan. On Thursday, shipyard workers wore green T-shirts to show solidarity with the draftsmen’s association.

“We can’t violate law, but there are many things you can do to show support that are completely legal, and we have every intention of going the extra mile to support the (draftsmen’s association ), far more than BIW is aware of,” Keenan said.

The draftsmen’s concerns over wages and benefits are shared by his union, Keenan said.

“The company is making record profits, but the cuts continue,” he said.

Local S6 narrowly voted to approve a contract in 2015 that included concessions on outsourcing, pay, pensions and health benefits. The company said concessions were needed to become cost-competitive and attract work. Despite those changes, the shipyard lost a $2.4 billion contract to make Coast Guard cutters last year and warned that 1,000 workers could be laid off.

“Here it seems like the working class seems to take it on the chin,” Keenan said. “They could do so much more by rewarding folks rather than talking concessions.”

In a Sept. 19 letter to union members, UAW Vice President Norwood Jewell said draftsmen would be eligible for a $200 a week strike benefit, and that appropriate costs associated with the strike would be covered by the union’s strike fund.

Peter McGuire can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: PeteL_McGuire

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