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Striking union asks federal mediator to help with contract

June 25, 2020 GMT

BATH, Maine (AP) — The union representing striking workers at Bath Iron Works has requested the assistance of a federal mediator, an official said Thursday.

More than 4,000 members of Machinists Union Local S6 went on strike Monday after rejecting the shipbuilding company’s final proposal.

Both the company and the union said they are open to resuming negotiations, but that hadn’t happened as of Thursday.

The request for a mediator’s help was made by the union Tuesday, but the company would have to agree to mediation, said Jay Wadleigh, a district business representative for the Machinists union.

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The company had no immediate comment on the mediation proposal.

The issues of contention have more to do with subcontractors, work rules and seniority than wages and benefits. The company’s three-year proposal would have given shipbuilders annual 3% pay raises.

The shipyard is one of the Navy’s five largest shipbuilders and a major employer in Maine with 6,800 workers.

The strike comes against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic.

Some workers were angry when the shipyard rebuffed requests to shut down for two weeks. But production continued through the pandemic with stringent protocols for disinfecting and distancing because the federal government classified the defense contractor as essential.

On Thursday, the shipyard announced that a fourth worker tested positive for the coronavirus. Three others who tested positive have returned to work.

“At Bath Iron Works, the safety of our employees continues to be our top priority, and we are committed to supporting them as we navigate these unprecedented times as an industry essential to the defense of our nation,” said company spokesman David Hench.