Members of Bath Iron Works’ biggest union went on strike on Monday after voting overwhelmingly to reject the company’s final contract offer, citing disagreements about senior preferences, subcontracting and health care premiums, among other issues.
The strike comes while BIW, one of Maine’s largest private employers, is already six months behind on producing a set of destroyers. It is the first strike at the shipyard in 20 years.
Some of Maine’s best-known politicians and other candidates for office in 2020 had four general types of reactions to the news, ranging from full-throated support of workers to far more cautious or qualified statements. Here’s how it broke down.
The congressman from Maine’s 2nd District offered one of the strongest endorsements of the strike. Rep. Jared Golden, a Democrat in a targeted 2020 re-election race, expressed solidarity with picketing workers in a letter to the union Monday morning, saying that he was 100 percent in support of their efforts. He also said workers could contact him if they needed help.
“I am fully committed to working with both management and Local S6 to support your work at BIW,” Golden wrote. “The country needs a strong Navy, and the Navy needs skilled shipbuilders.”
Both Senate Majority Leader Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, and Sen. Eloise Vitelli, D-Arrowsic, likewise showed strong support for the striking workers. In a statement, Vitelli accused BIW of trying to “cut corners” by paying lower wages and hiring subcontractors.
Jackson, who has worked for the striking union’s parent office as part of a bid to organize loggers, suggested in strong terms that shipyard management was trying to break up the union.
“I encourage management at BIW to get back to the table and start treating these workers as part of the team,” he said.
Several other Maine Democrats generally expressed support for the workers, saying they deserved a fair contract. Rep. Chellie Pingree of the 1st District said in a statement Monday that she hoped BIW management would return to the negotiating table and “work to reach an agreement with the union that protects the health and safety of its workforce.”
House Speaker Sara Gideon, a Democrat and the frontrunner in a three-way July 14 primary to take on U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said in a statement she hoped management and the union could come together and reach a contract.
She said workers “deserve a contract that fairly recognizes their work and provides them with the benefits they’ve earned, and I am in full support of their effort to secure a fair contract.”
Maine’s governor and two senators said they hope the two sides can reach an agreement soon, but declined to favor one over the other. Gov. Janet Mills, a Democrat, and Collins both cited the importance of the shipyard to the state’s economy.
Mills said in a statement that she urged the company and the union to resume negotiations, “as difficult as that is,” so BIW could continue to be an economic driver for the state. Collins similarly noted the extended impact of the shipyard’s closure.
“The inability to reach an agreement not only affects the skilled men and women employed at the shipyard but also the many workers in the supply chain, the economy of our State, and the ability of BIW workers to deliver much-needed ships to our Navy,” Collins said.
A spokesperson for Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, said the senator was monitoring the situation and hoped the two sides could find a “mutually satisfactory resolution.”
Republican candidates in Maine’s 2nd District likewise called for further negotiations — though one said members of Congress should stay out of it. Former state Sen. Eric Brakey, former state Rep. Dale Crafts and Adrienne Bennett, who was the spokesperson for former Gov. Paul LePage, all of whom are competing in the July primary for the right to challenge Golden, said it was important for the sides to reach a deal.
“I support the right of workers to negotiate for the best deal possible,” Brakey said. “I also hope all parties come to the table in good faith, recognizing these are challenging times with much at stake for the future.”
Crafts, who worked as a carpenter at BIW 40 years ago, said he hoped the two sides could reach an agreement soon, citing the effect on local businesses and the potential for the shipyard to lose out on future contracts.
“In my experience as a business owner and through years of negotiating, I have found that there is always common ground,” Crafts said.
Bennett said she had heard workers’ concerns and hoped the union and yard could come to a “swift agreement” but she did not think it was appropriate for members of Congress to “politicize” a labor dispute.