Machinists union president rallies striking shipyard workers

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Striking Bath Iron Works shipbuilders march in solidarity, Saturday, July 25, 2020, in Bath, Maine. The production workers went on strike June 22 after overwhelmingly rejecting the companys final contract proposal. The dispute centers on subcontractors, work rules and seniority.(AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

BATH, Maine – The international president of the Machinists union rallied striking workers at Bath Iron Works on Saturday, urging them to stay strong and proclaiming “there's no way in hell we are backing down from this fight.”

Robert Martinez Jr. delivered a message of unity to Machinists Local S6 during a strike that passed the one-month mark this week. He accused the shipyard, a subsidiary of General Dynamics, of "corporate greed."

“This is the largest strike in the United States of America right now,” he told the crowd of hundreds outside the union hall, across the street from the shipyard. “The eyes of the nation are upon us.”

The group, which included some spouses and children, marched from the shipyard's north gate to the south gate in a show of solidarity.

The 4,300 production workers went on strike on June 22 after overwhelmingly rejecting the company's final contract proposal.

The strike is centered around subcontractors, work rules and seniority, with wages and benefits being less of a concern. The company’s offer contained 3% pay raises in each of the three years covered by the proposal.

Both sides have been meeting separately with a federal mediator but there have been no face-to-face negotiations since the strike began.

Martinez asked Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, who visited workers on the picket line the day before, to press the company to return to the negotiating table. Collins' opponent in the November election, Democratic House Speaker Sara Gideon, spoke at the event on Saturday.

Collins wants to see if mediation can yield common ground.

"With the help of the mediator, she hopes both sides will quickly resolve their differences so that BIW’s employees return to work and continue to deliver much-needed ships to our Navy," said Collins spokesperson Annie Clark.

The union also accused the company of hiring “scab” workers from Alabama and Mississippi and putting them up in local hotels.

Martinez called it a “slap in the face" for workers.

The company has said it's ready to return to the negotiating table when directed to do so by the mediator. A company spokesperson had no further comment on Saturday.

It's the first strike in 20 years at Bath Iron Works, which is one of the Navy’s largest shipbuilders and a major employer in Maine, with 6,800 workers.

The shipyard builds guided-missile destroyers, the workhorse of the fleet, and the strike threatens to put production further behind at a time of growing competition with Russia and China.

The company was already about six months behind schedule when the strike began. The company needs to be able to hire subcontractors to get caught up, the shipyard's president contends.