Frank Demers, left, and Colter Leeman of Local S6 hold picket signs Sunday across the street from Bath Iron Works as union members continued their strike against the shipyard. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

BATH — Months ago, when there were rumblings of a strike, some members of Bath Iron Works’ largest union started making preparations. They saved up money, they found outside jobs. Weeks, maybe months, without work could be ahead of them.

But Andrew Reeves, a sandblaster new to his job at the shipyard, was too focused on getting settled to make plans.

“I wish I was one of those guys who saw this coming,” he said from the picket line on Sunday afternoon.

Now, after three weeks of striking, Reeves, who lives in Union, lacks an extra cushion of savings or outside work to tide him over. Still, he expressed faith in the union, to which he owes his livelihood, he says.

“I’m not worried at all,” Reeves said. “I wouldn’t be here unless I believed we could get it done.”

Lynn Pinkham holds a picket sign while striking across the street from Bath Iron Works on Sunday. With her is her dog Ivan. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

The mood was upbeat outside the Machinists Union Local S6 hall in Bath on Sunday afternoon. Picketers stood in the sun or sat under awnings, holding up signs and waving to the many drivers who honked as they passed. A giant inflated pig loomed over the scene in a top hat and vest.

Local S6, which represents 4,300 of the company’s 6,700 employees, began its strike on June 22 after rejecting a three-year contract offer from the company. Sticking points included proposed cuts to seniority privileges and, especially, a proposal to allow the shipyard to hire more no-union subcontractors.

The union made concessions on subcontractors during the last round of negotiations, in 2015, because Bath Iron Works, which is owned by the defense and aerospace company General Dynamics, said the outside workers were needed to win new contracts. This time around, the company pressed again for more subcontractors, citing a six-month backlog on production of the Arleigh Burke-class of guided-missile destroyers.

With management and the union at an impasse, the inflection point of a strike often comes after six to eight weeks, as picketers begin to feel the strain on their finances, says industry analyst Loren Thompson.

“The second rent check comes due,” Thompson, who serves as chief operating officer of the Virginia-based Lexington Institute, said in an interview Sunday afternoon. After that, he said, “the pocketbook impact becomes pretty compelling in terms of finding a compromise.”

A prolonged strike can divide longtime workers, who consider the union part of their identity, from newer ones, who “don’t have that same perspective,” Thompson said.

Some union members may already have crossed the picket line. Last week, Local S6 released a statement, titled “Attention All Scabs,” informing members that it would fine them if they returned to work during the strike.

“The union will fine every single member who crossed the picket line for the total amount of wages they individually earned from BIW until the strike is over,” the announcement said.

Bath Iron Works responded by filing a complaint against the union with the National Labor Relations Board. According to the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, a union can’t fine or otherwise discipline a member who resigns before returning to work during a strike.

Local S6 said its statement was in response to letters management sent to members’ homes that included instructions on how to resign from the union.

On Sunday afternoon, Mike Durant, a welder in the union, said a handful of members – roughly 20 – had gone back to work. Bath Iron Works has declined to confirm how many people have crossed the picket line, and union leadership couldn’t be reached for comment this weekend.

Durant and Zack Ziglar, another welder sitting next to him, said the vast majority of members were sticking with the union. But allowing defections, even just a few, could have a domino effect, they said.

A BIW employee for more than 11 years, Durant said he could understand the company’s position. He even worked as a welding manager for a time.

“I see their side,” he said, “but they’re not seeing our side. In my opinion, they’re only looking at the money side.”

Durant and Ziglar were among the prepared. They have both secured outside work, and have been saving up for the strike. But “some of us are doing better than others,” Durant said.

Many are supporting family members. Reeves, the sandblaster, said he lives with his stepdaughter and girlfriend, who is recovering from back surgery at home. Ziglar has a wife and two girls, ages 3 and 5.

“It hasn’t been as bad for me because my wife works from home,” Ziglar said.

Despite the financial pressure, younger union members on Sunday said they felt a responsibility to support those who had worked for years to win the benefits that they enjoy.

“Without them, I don’t have this job,” Reeves said. “The only reason I’m making a decent wage is because of this union.”

Young or old, the strikers said shipbuilding was part of their identity, one they’d be willing to fight to hold on to.

Ashley Doyle, a marine electrician from Bath, has found outside work during the strike. But at no point can she see herself deciding that it’s not worth keeping the job she’s picketing for.

“Building these ships is really important to me – as a local, as a Mainer,” she said. “I want to be here, slinging wrenches. But not until they come to the table.”

When that may happen is unclear. Union members and BIW leadership met with a federal mediator last week. This weekend, BIW spokesman David Hench said conversations with the mediator were ongoing.

In a message to shipyard workers last week, Dirk Lesko, president of Bath Iron Works, said the company has begun layoffs in response to the strike and hired contractors to try to stay on schedule. Lesko said the layoffs were temporary, and would start with surveyors and trades inspectors.

“At a time when we are behind schedule, it is frustrating to be sending our employees home,” he said. “However, the disruption of the strike leaves no other option.”

This is Local S6’s first strike in 20 years. Members walked off their jobs at the shipyard for 55 days in 2000.

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