Click here for the latest coronavirus news, which the BDN has made free for the public. You can support our critical reporting on the coronavirus by purchasing a digital subscription or donating directly to the newsroom.
The front page of newspapers in Maine say that the economic fallout from the coronavirus could hurt our state more than any other. With that as a backdrop, we want to reiterate our support for one of Maine’s most venerated employers: Bath Iron Works.
The COVID-19 outbreak has affected us all. Small businesses are shut down, children and teachers are home, and the Legislature was unable to finish our regular business on our normal schedule.
And, something else that is unprecedented is the sustained effort by some of our legislative colleagues to involve themselves in the bargaining relationship between the company and one of the unions representing BIW’s production employees. In our service in the Maine Legislature, we have had plenty of policy debates with our Democratic colleagues, but never once can we remember legislators intervening in the labor negotiations within a Maine company. Instead of fighting one of Maine’s storied employers, we should be doing everything we can to support BIW and to help them and their workforce make it through this crisis healthy and strong.
By now we should all know that the U.S. Navy has determined that BIW must remain open.
We all want BIW’s employees and their families to be healthy and safe, nobody more than the company itself. That is why BIW has:
Provided three months of health insurance and other benefits for more than 2,000 employees and their families who have chosen to remain out of work with no risk to job security.
Doubled the number of employees on their regular cleaning crews, to perform additional cleaning and disinfection.
Purchased thousands of face masks and required workers to wear them where it is safe and appropriate
Contracted with local restaurants to provide more than 100,000 lunches to allow employees to eat without having to closely congregate at food trucks
Worked closely with public health officials to actively revise and update policies to protect the health of their workforce.
So far, so good. Only two BIW employees and one contractor have tested positive for COVID-19. The employees, and those with whom they had contact were quarantined, and are now healthy and back on the job. With a workforce of nearly 7,000 that is a remarkable accomplishment and is far better than their competitors at Ingalls Shipyard. And, by the way, no legislators have been reported in Mississippi’s press urging Ingalls to shut down.
Not only has BIW worked hard to keep their employees healthy, but they also have worked to keep MaineHealth workers healthy, donating N95 masks and manufacturing face shields.
Now, BIW is partnering with other Maine companies to help Puritan Medical Products expand their production of sterile testing swabs needed for COVID-19 testing. This type of collaboration in the face of massive challenges should be a lesson to Maine lawmakers. We, too, should be coming together to support Maine manufacturing and in particular, BIW.
BIW’s success is crucial for Maine’s economic success. With an average annual wage of more than $58,000 per year and a generous benefits package, we know these are great manufacturing jobs. On top of that, BIW spends more than $350 million in payroll every year, procures goods from 296 suppliers from 13 counties, and spends $125 million on goods and services with Maine suppliers in 2018 and 2019. These numbers are critically important not only to the employees at BIW, but to the whole State of Maine as well.
With the DDG destroyer program constantly on the chopping block, and the contract for the next generation of frigates recently awarded to a competing shipyard in Wisconsin, BIW’s future is less certain than we might hope.
While some Maine legislators are futilely trying to overrule the U.S. Navy, legislators in Wisconsin are working in a bipartisan way to appeal to the Navy and secure the frigate contract. It’s time we started supporting BIW’s workforce by fighting to bring more work to the shipyard, and in doing so, help rebuild Maine’s economy.
Stacey Guerin of Glenburn represents District 10 in the Maine Senate. Richard Bradstreet of Vassalboro represents District 80 in the Maine House of Representatives.