With the help of some shipbuilders, Reps. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, and Jared Golden, D-Maine, gave ranking members of the Committee on Armed Forces Joe Courtney, D-Connecticut, and Robert Wittman, R-Virginia, a tour of Bath Iron Works Friday. The representatives said proposed cuts to Bath-built destroyers are unlikely. Photo courtesy of David Hench

BATH — Maine’s Congressional delegates and leadership from the House Armed Services Committee said cuts to the naval fleet, as proposed by the Department of Defense, are unlikely to pass muster, likely saving future business for shipyards including Bath Iron Works.

Maine Democratic Reps. Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden invited ranking member of the House Armed Services Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee Rep. Robert Wittman, R-Virginia, and  Connecticut Democrat Joe Courtney, the chairman of the same subcommittee, to tour BIW in response to the Pentagon’s proposed reductions to the naval fleet, specifically Arleigh Burke-class destroyers.

“(BIW) is a national treasure … this yard and the people who build the best ships in the world,” Wittman said Friday after the tour. “We all understand how critical it is and we’re all committed to making sure that continues because Bath, Maine has a part in making sure our nation’s military continues to be the greatest in the world.”

In a memo obtained by industry trade publication Defense News last month, the Department of Defense recommended slashing the number of Arleigh Burke-class destroyers built for the Navy between 2021 and 2025 from 12 ships to seven, a shipbuilding budget cut of about $9.4 billion.

Should the Pentagon’s recommendation be approved, the Navy’s warship fleet would shrink from its existing fleet of 293 ships to 287 in 2025 , but Pingree said the likelihood of Congress passing that reduction is, “basically zero.”

“There have been rumors and questions about what funding will be in the future,” said Pingree. “At this point, we feel confident the contracted ships will continue to be built. There’s a real commitment to increasing the size of our Navy … and there will be congressional support for going with the plan as is.”

Arleigh Burke-class destroyers are the primary ship class produced and serviced by BIW. The most recent destroyer, the future USS Daniel Inouye, was christened in June, making it the 37th ship of its class to be built by the shipyard. This class of guided-missile destroyers is built by only two shipyards: BIW and Mississippi-based Ingalls Shipbuilding.

Bath Iron Works has ongoing contracts for 11 Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, some of which are under construction.

Pingree and Golden sent a joint letter Jan. 13 to Secretary of Defense Mark Esper expressing concerns over the fleet reduction pitch.

“Such reductions in naval procurement would endanger our national security and would cause substantial, long-term harm to the health and readiness of the shipbuilding defense industrial base,” Pingree and Golden wrote.

Pingree and Golden added they “strongly support the goal of a 355-ship fleet,” which the Trump administration has backed and Congress made law through the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act.

“We all feel confident and secure in the future, but we’re not going to take anything for granted, and we’re going to fight for every last dollar,” Pingree said Friday.

The 2020 National Defense Authorization Act was passed last month in tandem with a defense spending bill, which allocates $5.1 billion to build three Arleigh Burke-class destroyers in the next year. BIW can compete for those contracts. The bill also includes $390 million above the president’s budget request for the Arleigh Burke advanced procurement, which amounts to a down payment for an additional ship next year.

In their letter, Golden and Pingree said a reduction to naval shipbuilding would have a negative impact on shipyard workers and, “result in a loss of irreplaceable institutional knowledge and shipbuilding skills. … Sustained naval procurement is necessary to train the next generation of naval shipbuilders.”

“Shipbuilding is not a skill that can be taught to new workers quickly,” wrote Golden and Pingree. “It is estimated that a new shipbuilder requires five to seven years of apprenticeship training to achieve occupational proficiency.”

BIW is in the midst of a hiring push to help compete for contracts and push ships out on schedule. The shipyard currently employs 6,700 and is planning to hire an additional 1,000 workers next year, then another 600 to 800 workers in 2021, according to Jon Mason, BIW’s director of human resources.

Earlier this month the Portland Press Herald reported Democratic State House leaders threatened to roll back a $45 million tax break granted to BIW, questioning whether the shipyard is meeting job creation and pay requirements outlined in a 2018 law.

In a letter to BIW President Dirk Lesko, House Speaker Sara Gideon and Senate President Troy Jackson said that since the legislation passed, the average wage at BIW has declined, the company has hired mostly low-wage scale workers, and that it is planning to hire out-of-state subcontractors.

BIW Vice President and General Counsel Jon Fitzgerald, replied to the lawmakers on Dec. 23, disputing the allegation that the shipyard hasn’t met its obligations. He pointed to a tight labor market, the retirement of highly skilled workers who earned higher wages than their replacements, and the requirement to meet Navy deadlines for completing work on ships.

Representatives from Local S6, the shipyard’s largest union, said the union is fighting back against BIW’s plan to hire subcontractors, which the shipyard said it needed to do because it has fallen behind schedule. The union said hiring subcontractors violates the contract between the union and the company.

Last month David Hench, a spokesman for BIW, told The Times Record that hiring subcontractors “will allow BIW to perform the work that we have and to compete for and win new work, which will ensure the long-term success of our business.”

Pingree said subcontractor disagreement between the shipyard and the union is “a situation we continue to monitor.”

“I think it’s important to hear both sides,” she said.


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