Over 4,000 Shipbuilding Employees Are on Strike in Maine – Jacobin magazine

10July 2020

Some 4,300 members of International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Employees, Local Lodge S6 are on strike against Bath Iron Works (BIW) in Bath, Maine. Employees voted with a frustrating majority of 87 percent to strike when their present agreement ended at midnight, June 22.

“Nearly 90 percent of our members voted, and almost 90 percent of them not just turned down the agreement, however they authorized the strike,” says Tim Suitter, union spokesman and twenty-two-year veteran shipyard sandblaster. “The strike was driven by the younger employees.”

Management is requiring concessionary agreement language that would give them the flexibility to hire in more short-term, non-union labor, keeping more and more workers stuck at the entry-level rate of $15.97 an hour — driving down incomes in the shipyard on average, specifically for brand-new hires with previous training and experience. BIW president Dirk Lesko touted recent hires and argued the shipyard needs more flexibility to complete Navy contracts, despite employing some two thousand temporary, sub-contractors over the last couple years.These are basic management arguments, in the twenty-first or any other century– one that union members, unsurprisingly, aren’t buying. “They want to have the ability to generate subcontractors and have them do my task and move me to do another person’s job,”Suitter states.” According to our prior contact, they might bring in subcontractors, but they had to go through a joint procedure, they had to provide it to the union and there had to be certain criteria fulfilled. However they do not want to have to do that. The majority of the subcontractors are non-union. … Management believed they were going to have the ability to simply stroll best though, however you saw a big rise up from the younger ship builders who stated, ‘This isn’t right. We’re not going to roll over and let them take all the defenses that we would anticipate and desire as our bodies begin breaking down the more years we put in.'”

Shipbuilding threatens and grueling work, so union power on the job is important for employees over the long run.” I might have been on the 2nd shift for twelve years, even with a household, and after that finally due to the fact that of seniority have the chance to come on the day shift,” Suitter mentions. “But now they can say, ‘We need that ability, we need you to go back to 2nd shift. We’re going to move you to this center or that facility without any restriction.'”

Unionization in the economic sector, especially manufacturing, has actually decreased over the last years. More than earnings and benefits are at stake in this battle.

“It’s a physical job. People put thirty years in, it’s a long profession. And over that career they’ve had surgical treatments trigger their body breaks down from dealing with steel all day,” explains Suitter. “I’m a sandblaster. I eliminate rust, guide, paint, what have you, and tidy it to bare metal. We use big commercial blasters with two-inch pipes with steel shot.”

The business’s “last, best, and last offer” consisted of a $1,200 signing benefit and 3 percent annual raises over the terms of the three-year contract. But it likewise called for medical insurance premium, deductible, and co-pay increases of 5 percent.

BIW is Maine’s fourth-largest company and the one of the United States Navy’s biggest shipbuilders, drawing workers from all sixteen Maine counties from Kittery to Aroostook. Founded in 1884, generations of union members have operated at the shipyard, where the Kennebec River faces the Gulf of Maine in Bath about forty-minutes north of Portland. General Characteristics, ranked number ninety-two on the Forbes Fortune 500 list in 2019, acquired BIW in 1995 and has long looked for to wear down the union.

While union members accepted concessions in 2015 and 2016 that quit arranged raises for one-time benefits to cut costs and assist the business secure more federal government agreements, General Characteristics has ridden high on the hog. As IAMAW International President Robert Martinez, Jr composed in a letter to President Trump, the 2017 “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act minimized the company’s efficient tax rate from 28.6% in 2017 down to 17.8 percent in 2018. With this windfall, General Characteristics significantly increased stock buybacks and dividend payments, giving nearly $2.9 billion to their investors in 2018 alone.” This begins top of a $ 45 million state of Mainetax break

. After pledging to bargain in excellent faith, management dragged its feet for the very first two weeks of the strike and is now playing hardball, cutting off health insurance for Regional S6 members, laying off about 220 members of sis union Local S7, and contacting strike breakers, “ ramping up our subcontracting,” as Lesko put it in a July 2 letter.

“The company said they require a response [to settlements] that will permit them to be successful,” responded IAM Local S6 President Chris Wiers. “Making use of subcontractors will not prosper. They require to listen to the workers. They understand how to develop the ships.”

The Southern Maine Labor Council arranged a vehicle caravan to support the strike in Bath, and regional labor unions have visited picket lines and donated to the union’s strike support fund. It looks like the 2 sides are dug in for a long battle. It isn’t the first time. In 2000, LS6 members struck for fifty-five days prior to wrestling the company to a draw. Alvin”Doug”Hanks, sixty-three, a veteran of the 2000 strike has worked at BIW for almost 33 years, explained to local media that he’s back out on the line to defend the more youthful generation: “It’s time we revealed corporate America that they can’t just replace the hard workers and keep this country going.”The business’s low concern on employee security was driven home throughout the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic. Union members required the shipyard to close, however the business refused, lastly granting employees 2 weeks unsettled leave if they were worried about the infection. Rob Hopper, a six-year BIW employee who continued working told regional media, “With a boy with epilepsy, you never know what’s going to occur. For me, it wasn’t worth the threat.”On March 24, just 41 percent of workers reported to their shift after the

first case of Covid-19 was spotted at BIW. After a second worker tested positive, office workers at BIW asked to be enabled to telecommute, but management refused, claiming” nationwide security”issues. After Gov. Janet Mills grumbled that BIW was not taking adequate preventative measures, management directed workers to the CDC website for instructions on how to make a mask, writing,”Some examples of appropriate face coverings are bandannas, scarfs, pieces of material kept in place with elastic and ski masks that cover the mouth and nose.”As the contract deadline approached, union members on the deck plate” started to show their disappointments in what we call’put the hammer down,'” says Suitter.” It was truly the more youthful kids who got it began and really brought it forward and they would put the hammer down for one

minute every hour on the hour by banging on steel.” Management responded by suspending employees. Jami Bellefleur, a BIW painter of 7 years, told regional media that she was suspended after hammering on scrap metal and bought to sit idly in

the shipyards labor workplace.”We sat there for three hours on Friday afternoon, and after that sat there for 7 hours on Monday afternoon. We’ve been informed by our nationwide legal group [that putting the hammer down] is a secured act.”The union protected all the suspended workers and won them back spend for the time they lost. Local S6 members are determined, but management shows couple of indications of pulling back. Union negotiators met with federal conciliators today, and business representatives are expected to do the exact same in the coming days. 3 weeks in, employees are hanging tough on the picket lines, but they will require support from unions across the country

and the people of Maine to win. BIW utilized to be a company of option for workers throughout Maine. General Characteristics wants to break that tradition and require its staff members into a race to the bottom. The only thing strong enough to stop them will be union solidarity. As Suiter puts it, “Bath Iron Functions is owned by General Dynamics, and they do not care about the people who work for the shipyard or the state for that matter.

It’s the exact same story, blame the employees. Our members saw that they were literally attempting to break the union. But we’ll put our foot down until they get the message that we’re not disappearing. “Source: jacobinmag.com

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