BATH — Bath Iron Works has hired subcontractors to help disinfect areas of the shipyard after a BIW was diagnosed with coronavirus earlier this month. The shipyard’s largest union, however, said the effort to protect BIW’s employees from COVID-19 isn’t enough.

According to the company’s website, the cleaning crews will wash the bathrooms and break rooms once a day, while turnstiles, railings and doorknobs will be disinfected throughout all three shifts and tools will be cleaned between uses.

Chris Wiers, president of Machinists Union Local S6, said the union appreciates BIW’s effort to keep the workspace clean but is disappointed the shipyard hired subcontractors to fill workers’ jobs while many have taken leave to keep themselves safe.

“Cleaning the shipyard is the right thing to do, but the way they went about it was wrong,” said Wiers. “What the shipyard should’ve done is close down. BIW is always reactive, never proactive.”

Over the past two weeks, union leaders have called the company to close and pay its workers to prevent coronavirus from spreading throughout the shipyard and the community. According to Wiers, BIW employs workers from every county in Maine.

The shipyard allowed workers to take unpaid leave, or use allotted paid time off, over concerns of falling ill. About half of BIW’s workforce showed up for work last week, the union said. That trend continued into this week.


Earlier this month BIW officials reported an employee was diagnosed with coronavirus, but no other employees have tested positive, according to a statement issued by the shipyard Monday.

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported 275 Mainers have tested positive as of Monday, an increase of 22 cases since Sunday.

“To those affected directly by COVID-19, our hearts go out to you,” said Dirk Lesko, president of BIW. “For our colleagues who are faithfully continuing to serve day-in and day-out, thank you for the work you do that is so essential to our nation’s security. We are very proud of BIW employees’ commitments and their dedication.”

This effort from BIW comes on the heels of Maine’s congressional delegation sending a letter to the U.S. Navy in which they urged the Navy to allow BIW management to provide its workers with the same level of protection from the coronavirus that the Navy is requiring for workers at its public shipyards. Those protections include allowing workers who may be more vulnerable to severe symptoms if they contract COVID-19 to stay home from work on paid administrative leave.

Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King, along with Reps. Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden released their letter Friday.

“… We are dealing with a highly contagious and deadly pandemic unlike anything our country has faced in over a century, and private shipyards are working to simultaneously maintain contractual obligations while complying with critical state and local public health orders,” the lawmakers wrote. “… We believe the Navy should take aggressive actions to ensure the health of the shipyard industrial base workforce is not put at undue risk as governments at all levels work to halt the spread of COVID-19.”

BIW continues to operate, despite low employee attendance, citing the shipyard is considered a part of the country’s “critical infrastructure” because it builds destroyers for the Navy, but Wiers argued BIW’s services aren’t necessary for daily survival because the country isn’t at war and Bath-built ships don’t immediately join the naval fleet.

“We’re not trying to beat up BIW, but there are more important things than the bottom line,” said Wiers. “We’re civilians who go home to our families and the potential danger that exists is huge.”

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