AUGUSTA — State Senate President Troy Jackson on Friday defended his threat to roll back a $45 million tax break granted to Bath Iron Works in 2018 and questioned again whether the company was making good on its job-creation and pay promises.

Maine Senate President Troy Jackson

The Democrat from Allagash, a long-time organized labor advocate, also said his work for a union with a local that represents shipyard workers and has criticized BIW’s plans to outsource some labor does not constitute a conflict of interest.

“I absolutely don’t want to do anything to hurt Bath Iron Works, hurt them getting their contracts or anything like that,” Jackson said. “Because I believe wholeheartedly and without a doubt that Bath-built is best-built and it’s done that way because of Maine workers and not because out-of-state corporations.”

Jackson, speaking with reporters in his Augusta office, said he wanted to respond to criticism that he had a conflict in using his position as an elected official to pressure BIW when he also works for the International Association of Machinists. He said his work for the union was focused on organizing loggers and had nothing to do with shipyard labor.

Jackson and House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, sent a letter to BIW’s president in December threatening to reconsider the tax credits. They said BIW had not lived up to its wage and job promises and was trying to hire subcontractors, not union workers, for shipyard jobs.

BIW Vice President and General Counsel Jon Fitzgerald disputed the claim that the shipyard hasn’t met its obligations. He cited a tight labor market, the retirement of highly skilled workers who earned higher wages than their replacements, and the need to meet Navy deadlines for work on ships.

Republican lawmakers said Gideon and Jackson had made unfounded allegations that didn’t take into account the labor market conditions that BIW has to contend with.

Jackson’s work for the union at the time he and Gideon lodged their complaint was first reported by the Bangor Daily News. He reported the job in an income disclosure to the Maine Ethics Commission, listing his work as “organizing,” and said he was paid $20,000 to $25,000 for the four-month stint, which ended in December.

“We championed this legislation based on the promise of continued good-paying  jobs at the BIW shipbuilding facility,” Gideon and Jackson wrote in their letter to shipyard officials dated Dec. 20. “It would be unfortunate if the Legislature had to reconsider this special tax credit because of the ever-growing evidence that BIW has not lived up to their end of the bargain.”

Both Jackson and Gideon voted for the bill that granted the tax break in 2018. Jackson said Friday he backs tax breaks for corporations in Maine, but also believes in holding them accountable.

BIW did not respond to a message left by a reporter Friday.

BIW currently employs 6,700 workers. In 2017, when the shipyard had roughly 5,600 employees, it was Maine’s fourth-largest private employer and the state’s largest manufacturer.

Tim Suitter, chair of the IAM Local S6 Legislative Committee, the largest union at BIW, said the union supports Gideon and Jackson’s oversight and shared the concern about subcontracted labor.

“We appreciate that legislators are doing their due diligence to protect Maine taxpayers, support good paying, quality jobs and scrutinize the subcontracting out of local jobs,” Suitter said. “This is not a Democratic or Republican issue. This is about Maine jobs and holding companies that receive taxpayer dollars accountable.”

 

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