Bath Iron Works intends to hire subcontractors to help finish a backlog of military work, a move the shipyard’s largest union has pledged to fight.

The shipyard is in the midst of a massive, years-long push to hire thousands of new permanent employees to replace retiring workers.

In the meantime, BIW needs to temporarily subcontract workers to complete existing tasks and increase the chance of getting new ship contracts, according to the company, a subsidiary of General Dynamics.

“Subcontracting will not negatively impact our employees, nor will it take the place of hiring,” the company said in a statement. The company has the flexibility to hire temporary workers in its collective bargaining agreement with international machinists’ union Local S6, it said.

“The goal is to increase employment, deliver the ships we have been contracted to build and ensure employment stability for the future at BIW.”

The shipyard has outstanding contracts to build 11 DDG-51 Arleigh Burke-class destroyers and finish the third and final Zumwalt-class advanced destroyer for the Navy. It also has planning and upgrade work on deck.

But losing out on a $10.5 billion contract to build Coast Guard cutters in 2016 and being awarded fewer destroyer contracts than its only rival in Mississippi last year have raised concerns about the shipyard’s competitiveness on future military work.

The company did not directly say how many subcontractors it planned to hire, if they would be paid less than workers represented by the machinists’ union and when the company would start the process.

But the machinists’ union says using contract workers is a violation of its contract. The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers represents 3,600 workers at BIW.

In a statement, John Carr, regional union representative of machinists’ union said it “strongly opposes the outsourcing of our members’ work, whether it be by bringing in workers from other states or shipyards.”

Union leaders met with management last week and proposed several ways to fix issues and reduce the work backlog while preserving bargaining unit jurisdiction, he added.

In a letter to members last week, S6 leaders said decreased overtime, manipulating hiring requirements and pushing out products that need to be reworked later were several reasons why shipbuilding at the yard is struggling.

“Most of these problems are related to poor decisions which create rework and schedule slips” and lead to poor morale, leaders said.

Work that will be outsourced includes blasting and painting, snow shoveling and electrical work. Blasting and painting work is housed in a workshop off the shipyard in Brunswick. The company did not respond when asked whether subcontractors would replace union workers at that facility.

“The company is fixated on outsourcing work that belongs to our bargaining unit,” local leaders said in their letter.

“Our plan of action moving forward is to fight this decision with all the resources the union has at its disposal,” it added.

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