BATH — Officials from Bath Iron Works and its largest union, now in its seventh week on strike, sat down together for the first time with a federal mediator present on Monday, but little is known about what — if anything — was resolved.

The mediator, brought in to help rekindle talks between the two parties, has met with BIW and Local S6 officials separately over the past few weeks, but the strike continued without resolution.

Neither the union nor the company weighed in on the talks as of 5 p.m. Monday.

“It’s a good sign that the mediator is bringing us both to the table,” Local S6 spokesman Tim Suitter said Monday morning. “That means they believe some progress can be made.”

Members of local S6 of the Machinists Union from a picket line near at the South Gate entrance to BIW on Monday. The union has requested the help of a federal mediator. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

Peter Bennett, a labor lawyer at the Portland-based Bennett Law Firm, said it’s impossible to know what to expect at the conclusion of the first meeting because the public isn’t in at the bargaining table.

“We know there has been some backchannel communication that led to this meeting … but we just don’t know enough about what’s going on,” Bennett said.

The last time union and company officials spoke was during contract negotiations in June, but communication stalled after BIW delivered its “last, best and final” contract to the union, which union officials roundly criticized. The main sticking points continue to be the company’s proposed changes to how it can hire subcontractors and proposed changes to seniority privileges, such as shift times and assignments.

Bennett said it’s still possible for one side to win everything they want, but both parties have a long road of negotiations ahead of them.

“Somebody or both sides are trying to find a way out of this,” said Bennett. “To some extent, everybody loses at this point, but everybody has to save face, too.”

Machinist Union Local S6, which represents 4,300 of the shipyard’s 6,800 workers, went on strike June 22 after rejecting the 3-year contract proposal from BIW.

Since the strike began, both union and company officials have said they’re ready to restart negotiations, but neither party moved until last month when union officials invited BIW officials to meet with the federal mediator present.

The union has expressed frustration with BIW’s “inaction” and wrote in an online statement released last week, “This is typical BIW [public relations] that doesn’t accurately depict the intent of the process or the actual progress made.”

“The mediator is supposed to get us back to the table which we are clearly prepared to do,” union officials wrote. “We are prepared with additional options, plans, and proposals for increased job security and schedule recuperation to assist BIW.”

In the proposed contract, the company requested the freedom to hire subcontractors without communicating with the union, as well as to move workers where they’re needed to “expedite our ability to employ whatever resources are available as quickly as possible to meet our customer’s needs in a way that is fair to our employees,” according to a company statement.

The union pushed back, unwilling to make concessions and fearful that they could be replaced by cheaper, out-of-state subcontractors.

David Hench, BIW spokesman, couldn’t be reached for comment Monday.

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