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George Edwards, a tinsmith at Bath Iron Works for 33 years, is the assistant directing business representative for Machinists District 4. He was a member of the negotiating committee for the International Association of Machinists S6 contract negotiations.
When 87 percent of International Association of Machinists Local S6 members voted in June to reject Bath Iron Works’ attempts to undermine worker protections, they showed the company that they cared about the quality of jobs at the shipyard and that they would not be pushed around. Having worked as a tinsmith at the shipyard for 33 years and spent the last eight years as a labor representative for the Machinists Union, I was so proud to see the solidarity and strength my union brothers and sisters showed throughout the nine-week strike.
In the end, their courage paid off as the new contract we ratified removed the company’s damaging attempts to subcontract out good jobs at the shipyard and gut seniority provisions. Being on strike in the middle of a pandemic and economic crisis put a lot of pressure on our members. Without access to unemployment, they had to find other ways of making ends meet and the stress of not knowing when the strike would end was very difficult for the workers and their families.
Having the support of the community, other unions and elected officials was critical to boosting our morale and putting pressure on the company to settle a fair contract. We thank all the other unions and elected officials who showed up on the picket line and supported us in numerous ways.
House Speaker Sara Gideon was there for us from day one, pledging her support for Local S6 and doing everything she could to urge the company to do the right thing. She met repeatedly with our union leadership and bargaining committee, joined us on the picket line, spoke at our rallies and urged the company to settle a fair contract. That is a major reason why the Maine State Council of Machinists voted to endorse Gideon in the U.S. Senate race, despite having supported her opponent Sen. Susan Collins for reelection in 2014.
In her response to our endorsement, Collins claimed that we were just “reverting back” to our “traditional behavior,” which is ridiculous. We haven’t changed. Washington has changed Collins.
Then, this summer while we struggled for a fair contract that would keep good paying jobs in Maine, Sen. Collins refused to take our side. She was asked repeatedly by Local S6 and our international president to get involved and show her support for the shipbuilders, but she instead urged both sides to use a mediator. Who is the senator really working for? Is she working for the company executives and shareholders or the people who actually build the ships?
In the weeks leading up to the strike, Collins accepted more than $21,000 in campaign contributions from BIW and General Dynamics senior management. It makes me wonder how much money changes people’s actions, even Susan Collins.
I proudly voted for Senator Collins in 2014, but over the past six years she has repeatedly sided with wealthy corporate interests over working people. By voting to confirm union buster Eugene Scalia to head the Department of Labor and anti-worker judges like Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch, Collins has ensured Mainers will have less power in the workplace and laws will be stacked against us when we stand up for our rights.
In 2017, Collins voted for a $1.5 trillion tax break for the wealthy and corporations while the working class saw little benefit. As a result, BIW’s parent company General Dynamics was able to use its windfall to buy back $1.8 billion in stocks to enrich its shareholders while BIW shipbuilders’ wages were largely frozen.
It’s clear to me that Collins has forgotten the people who sent her to Washington. It’s time to elect a senator who will stick up for working Mainers.