A crowd of Local S6 members cheer as Robert Martinez, Jr., the international president of the International Machinists and Aerospace Workers, speaks during a rally Saturday outside of the Union Hall across from Bath Iron Works. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

BATH — Machinists Union Local S6 overwhelmingly accepted a new contract with Bath Iron Works on Sunday, bringing an end to a contentious nine-week strike.

After a weekend of remote voting, 87 percent of union members accepted the revised contract – the same percentage that rejected the first proposed contract, sparking the strike over two months ago.

The 4,300 members of Local S6 will return to work and have their health care benefits restored on Monday.

The shipbuilders got most of what they wanted when it came to work rules and maintaining the status quo for hiring of subcontractors, along with the previous proposal’s annual pay raises of 3 percent for three years, The Associated Press reported. The company got streamlined rules for hiring subcontracting, and a commitment to work together to get back on track.

“This strike was a testament to the culmination of Local S6 leadership, our negotiating committee and the incredible power of solidarity shown by our membership,” Local S6 President Chris Wiers said in a statement Sunday. “Now that we successfully protected our contract language with respect to subcontracting and seniority, we need to get back to work and continue to prove to the U.S. Navy that ‘S6 built is best built.’”

BIW spokesman David Hench said the shipyard is “pleased to welcome back our valued manufacturing employees and get back to the important work of building ships on schedule for the U.S. Navy.”

“This contract reflects the commitment of all BIW employees to improve schedule performance and the economic package ensures that manufacturing careers at BIW continue to be among the very best in Maine,” Hench said in a statement. “As we move forward to deliver on our commitments to the U.S. Navy and meet our obligations as part of this nation’s critical infrastructure, we must do so together, on time, every time.”

International Union President Robert Martinez Jr. congratulated the union in a statement Sunday, saying Local S6 “has shown the world that together working people can stand up and win for themselves, their families and their communities.”

“This fight for dignity, justice and good Maine jobs will go down in the history books of the Machinists Union and all of organized labor,” Martinez wrote.

Martinez also thanked the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service and director Richard Giacolone “for helping us get this agreement resolved.”

The union went on strike on June 22 after an overwhelming majority of its members rejected the company’s “last, best and final” proposed contract. The major sticking points throughout the 63-day strike were the company’s proposed changes to subcontracting and seniority.

According to the union, the company’s first contract would have given BIW the ability to hire subcontractors without justifying its reasons to the union. The shipyard would have also had the power to move workers to different tasks or shifts regardless of seniority.

Dan Coloins, a BIW pipefitter for 41 years, said the shipyard’s original proposed contract and proposed changes to subcontracting were “an insult” to union members.

“They weren’t negotiating in good faith,” said Coloins. BIW “said ‘it’s my way or the highway.’”

The new contract, crafted with the help of the federal mediator called in after a six-week stalemate between the two parties, maintains the current subcontracting language and ensures shift changes will remain based on seniority.

Kevin Roberts, who started working at BIW last December, and said he’s “low on the seniority totem pole now” but understood the importance of striking over the company’s proposed changes to seniority because “it’s not about where I am now; I’m striking looking to where I’ll be in future years.”

After falling behind schedule, BIW is eager to get caught up on production of destroyers as the U.S. Navy faces growing competition from China and Russia on the high seas, the AP reported. The General Dynamics subsidiary was already more than six months behind schedule before the strike.

The company hopes that mediated discussions between the union and the company will help get the relationship back on track.

But it’s going to take time. Levi Benner, a shipfitter, said there are hard feelings because management routinely rejects workers’ ideas for improvements.

“It’s going to be hard to restore trust. We know what we’re doing. We’ve been building ships for years and years. These guys are geeks. They know their graphs and pie charts, but they don’t know how to build ships,” he told the AP on Sunday.

In the end, workers and the shipyard must learn how to work together if the company is to successfully compete for contracts against lower-cost competitors, said Loren Thompson, an analyst at the Lexington Institute.

“Both sides need to understand that their best chance for having a future is to get along with each other,” he told the AP. “The American landscape is littered with the debris of destroyed industries. Most of them made a good product but they’re still gone.”

 

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