Workers at Bath Iron Works are set to go on strike at 12:01 a.m. Monday after 87 percent of members of the Machinists Union Local S6 voted in favor of a strike Sunday, the union announced.
The vote to strike followed a decision from the negotiating team for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Local S6 to reject a three-year contract with BIW last weekend, citing subcontracting, health benefits and overtime, among other issues.
It is the first time that the shipyard, one of Maine’s largest private employers, has had a strike since 2000. This time, the shutdown comes amid the economic downturn imposed by the coronavirus pandemic.
Union members also rejected the proposed contract. Accepting the new contract required the support of more than 50 percent of workers, while a strike required two-thirds support.
Jay Wadleigh, a former Local S6 president and current business representative for the Machinists Union, said the decisive margin showed workers are “tired of concessions.”
“Hopefully it sends a message that the company needs to reexamine its proposals, get back to the table, fix them, and get us back to work,” Wadleigh said.
In a statement Sunday, BIW spokesperson David Hench said the company was “disappointed” by the result of the vote but prepared for a strike to occur. Members, he said, had chosen not to accept the “last, best and final offer for a new collective bargaining agreement.”
One of the biggesting sticking points in BIW’s last proposal was subcontractors, which the company wants to use to catch up on work. BIW is about six months behind in producing a set of destroyers. But the union worried that the use of subcontractors would lead to layoffs of union workers.
Further delays to production due to the strike could give the Navy pause in awarding future contracts to the shipyard. The shipyard missed out on a new destroyer contract in April. During the last contract vote, in 2015, workers were warned that more than 1,000 jobs could be lost if the shipyard failed to win a Coast Guard contract. Another shipyard ultimately won that contract.
The Local S6 Union, which represents more than 4,000 workers, also cited changes to shift structures, overtime and an increase in employee contributions and copays for health care as among the reasons it opposed the proposed contract.
Tensions between the union and shipyard were amplified by the recent coronavirus outbreak. The union asked BIW to send employees home with full pay after a worker tested positive for the virus in March, but the shipyard declined, saying it would not close unless instructed to do so by the Navy or the Defense Department.
Voting on the contract and the strike was conducted remotely via phone or email, as opposed to in-person, due to the pandemic. The results were announced shortly after 12 p.m.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the percentage of members who voted in favor of a strike.