Sen. Susan Collins speaks with International IAM President Robert Martinez Jr. Friday afternoon. Collins encouraged both BIW and the union to communicate so the strike can be resolved quickly. Kathleen O’Brien / The Times Record

BATH — U.S. Sen. Susan Collins and Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon, who is vying to oust Collins from her seat in November’s election, separately visited the picket lines outside Bath Iron Works Friday afternoon as a strike by the shipyard’s largest union drags into its sixth week.

Gideon and Collins spoke with Local S6 union members and officials to hear their concerns amid the ongoing contract dispute between BIW and its largest union, which sparked the strike late last month.

Local S6 and the three other unions at the shipyard endorsed Collins during her last election in 2014, the first time the union ever threw its weight behind a Republican.

Collins, who holds a position on the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, said she’s eager for the strike to get resolved and encouraged communication between the company and the union.

“I encouraged both sides to seek the help of a mediator, and my hope is that the mediator can bring both sides together and that the mediator will help them come up with solutions,” said Collins. “Once we’re back on track and these incredibly skilled workers are back building the best ships in the world, I can help them as I’ve always helped them, and that’s by ensuring that BIW gets contracts, that we have an adequate shipbuilding budget, and we continue to pursue the goal of a 355-ship Navy.”

Gideon, who has appeared with striking workers prior, has voiced support for the union in the midst of the dispute.

“For the past month, the workers of Local S6 have raised their voices together, demanding a fair contract that recognizes their work, upholds our state’s tradition of training and employing the best shipbuilders in the world, and allows Mainers to continue pursuing careers as shipbuilders,” Gideon said. “I’m proud to support the workers of Local S6 in that effort, and I’m hopeful that management and the union can come back to the negotiating table and reach a fair agreement soon.”

Machinist Union Local S6, which represents 4,300 of the shipyard’s 6,700 employees, went on strike June 22 after rejecting a 3-year contract proposal over disagreements about the company’s plans to continue hiring subcontractors and proposed changes to worker seniority privileges.

Local S6 President Chris Wiers said the union’s negotiating committee stands ready to restart negotiations with the company, but BIW hasn’t yet responded to the union’s invitation to have the union and shipyard sit down together with a federal mediator to hash out disagreements. The two parties have been meeting separately with the mediator over the past few weeks, but those meetings haven’t yielded results.

House Speaker Sara Gideon speaks with Local S6 President Chris Wiers Friday afternoon. Gideon expressed her support for the Local S6 union, now finishing its fifth week on strike. Kathleen O’Brien / The Times Record

BIW spokesman David Hench said the shipyard “appreciates the role Maine’s congressional delegation plays in helping the Navy meet the security needs of our nation and the opportunities that creates for the shipbuilders of BIW and for the State of Maine.

“We will continue to work hard to put them in the best position possible to advocate for our future by striving to produce ships on schedule and within budget,” Hench said.

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