BATH — Local eateries near Bath Iron Works that rely on business from hungry shipbuilders are starting to bounce back after a nine-week strike at the shipyard took over half of their customers out of work.

As the coronavirus pandemic hit Maine, BIW started buying lunches for their employees from local eateries in late March, which helped keep businesses afloat, but those orders stopped when the strike launched in June, sending those businesses further into a financial U-turn.

“From the end of March to two weeks before the strike, we were making 600 sandwiches per day for BIW,” said Angela Smith, co-owner of Midcoast Pizza and More. “Then the strike broke out and that stopped.”

Midcoast Pizza and More sits on the corner of Washington Street in Bath, directly across the street from the Local S6 union hall where workers would picket.

“The strike definitely impacted our lunch orders the most,” said Smith. “Most of the time BIW didn’t let workers out of the shipyard for lunch and the strikers didn’t come over for lunch either. There were times we didn’t open for lunch because we never got an order.”

She estimated BIW employees make up about 60% of her customer base. Because of this, the strike caused an 80% drop in lunch orders and a 50% drop in overall business. Since the strike ended, those lunch orders from BIW workers have bounced back to where they were before the strike began.

BIW’s Local S6 union, which serves 4,300 of the shipyard’s 6,800 workers, went on strike on June 22 after 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 initial proposed changes to subcontracting and seniority.

The strike ended on Aug. 23 when union members accepted a new contract with BIW that maintained the status quo for hiring subcontractors and protected seniority privileges for workers.

While Midcoast Pizza and More remained open during the strike, Fiona’s Restaurant, a small restaurant across the street from the shipyard’s south gate on Washington Street, temporarily closed once the strike started because “it didn’t make sense to stay open,” said owner Lisa Fraser.

“BIW is 90% of our business and when they’re not making money, they can’t buy things from us,” she said. “We just hit pause on everything, but we were able to prepare for [the strike] because we heard it was coming.”

Fiona’s Restaurant is known for serving breakfast and lunch to BIW workers from two food trucks allowed inside the shipyard.

Fraser said she was able to rehire all her employees and restart operations the week after the strike ended. Her food trucks are now allowed back in the shipyard but under a strict schedule and other guidelines in order to avoid crowding around the trucks.

“We’re pretty much back to where we were in June,” she said. “Overall we’re very very lucky.”

Although Midcoast Pizza and More and Fiona’s Restaurant are both rebounding, the Cabin, a restaurant on Washington Street in Bath, has yet to see an increase in business since the strike ended according to Laura Colon, general manager of The Cabin.

Colon said the restaurant has seen around a 40% drop in sales, but she didn’t know whether to credit that to the BIW strike or the coronavirus pandemic.

“Business is nothing like it used to be, but we’re holding steady for now,” said Colon. “I don’t think things will be much different until [the state lifts restrictions on restaurants.]”

Colon said she has had to lay off one employee in March, but one since then.

Although the strike ending hasn’t stimulated business yet, Colon said she remains hopeful that things will begin to pick up again “Now that BIW workers all have a job again.”

Although business reports in the South End of Bath are mixed Marc Meyers, Bath assistant city manager said “there’s a little more life” in downtown Bath since the strike ended.

“When you have more than 4,000 employees who are no longer working, the businesses in the area are going to be affected by that,” said Meyers. “The strike was just an added blow to businesses in addition to the pandemic.”

While the strike was brewing Meyers said the city was busy organizing economic relief loans for small local businesses and working on offering expanded pedestrian areas and parklets in downtown Bath to allow businesses to expand operations and draw visitors.

“The city was already looking at what we can do to try to stabilize the economy while recognizing that the strike was just an additional impact on businesses at this time,” said Meyers. “Now we’re seeing more activity in the downtown and adjusting back into normal times as best we can during a pandemic.”

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