President Donald Trump tweeted Monday that he was “glad to have helped” resolve a contract dispute at Bath Iron Works, but the White House’s role looked to be limited while one of his advisors and the union credited a federal mediator with bringing the sides together.
The shipyard and the striking Local S6 machinists union announced over the weekend that they reached a tentative agreement on a new contract. Union negotiators said the deal preserved a subcontracting process and seniority provisions that were central to workers’ grievances with the company. The contract will be voted on by union members later this month.
It was a remarkable example of the president using his platform to tout lower-level government action related to Maine, a state he has put a political emphasis on during this election year, including on an official June visit where he toured a medical products factory. Later that month, he announced that lobstermen would be eligible for tariff offsets, though that is still in the works.
The 4,400-member machinists union went on strike about six weeks ago after rejecting what was the company’s final contract proposal. There were no formal talks for more than a month until the union suggested that the sides meet with a federally appointed mediator in late July.
The union, which requested a federal mediator several days into the strike, wrote on Facebook after the tentative agreement was announced this weekend that it had been “apprehensive” about entering the mediation process and credited Trump for appointing a senior official at the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, and a commissioner from the agency.
“They proved to be valuable tools in pushing both parties to move in the right direction and get our members off the picket lines and back to work,” the union wrote.
A White House spokesperson did not respond to an inquiry about the administration’s role in resolving the strike on Monday, but a press release from General Dynamics, the parent company of Bath Iron Works, also thanked Peter Navarro, the president’s trade adviser, along with an official from the AFL-CIO, a labor coalition.
Navarro told the Bangor Daily News on Monday that his role was “small and modest,” saying a colleague had asked him for help in bringing sides back to the table and he had assisted, but deferring credit to Richard Giacolone, the deputy director of the mediation service. Navarro added that Trump has “great admiration” for BIW shipbuilders.
The strike has been a political and economic flashpoint as Maine has attracted national attention in an election year rattled by the coronavirus. Trump, who won a single electoral vote from the 2nd Congressional District in 2016, said in June that he hoped to win the whole state in 2020. He has lagged in recent public polls statewide against former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee, but the two have been virtually neck and neck in the 2nd District.
Politicians on both sides had expressed varying degrees of support for workers, with strong support coming from Rep. Jared Golden, a Democrat from the 2nd District. Biden weighed in on the issue in support of the workers as well. Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican, and House Speaker Sara Gideon, who is challenging Collins this year, both visited the picket line in July. So did independent candidates Lisa Savage and Max Linn.
The Maine State Machinists Union, whose affiliates include the BIW unions, endorsed Gideon at the end of July after supporting Collins in the past, though Local S6 has not yet made an endorsement in the Senate race.