Shipyard Workers Vote To Strike Updated: Mon, Aug 28 11:57 AM EDT
By GLENN ADAMS, Associated Press Writer Related stories
BATH, Maine (AP) - Striking workers at the Bath Iron Works, builder of Navy destroyers, walked picket lines Monday in a demand for more money and job security. About 85 percent of the union members who cast ballots voted in favor of the strike, the shipyard's first walkout in 15 years, said John Portela, a union financial officer.
A shipyard spokeswoman said the company felt its offer was fair and that the overwhelming rejection of the contract proposal for 4,800 employees came as a surprise. "We're preparing to go back to the table," spokeswoman Sue Pierter said Sunday.
The workers' contract expired at midnight, shutting down production at one of only two shipyards that build Aegis destroyers. The last strike at the subsidiary of General Dynamics was a 99-day walkout in 1985.
"I want what I'm worth, and General Dynamics can well afford it," Paul Avery, a shipyard rigger, said Monday. As managers arrived at work Monday morning, dozens of rowdy shipbuilders waved signs and yelled at them.
At another military contractor, nearly 3,000 workers went on strike Sunday against 10 Massachusetts plants of Raytheon Co. Most work at the company's Andover plant which makes most of the Patriot missile, Raytheon's best-known defense product. Hawk defense systems are also made there.
The Raytheon workers' union, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1505, said the company's proposals for a four-year contract don't do enough to protect manufacturing jobs.
At Bath, shipbuilders belonging to Local S6 of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers were upset over the company's pay proposal and management proposals for changes in work rules.
"You've got a corporation slurping up military contracts, and you know that those contracts are overcharged to the taxpayer. These guys get the money, and they're not willing to share," said Don Snowdon, an electrician for 12 years at the shipyard.
The shipyard, one of Maine's largest private employers with 7,600 workers, proposed a three-year contract with wage increases of 4 percent this year, 3.5 percent next year and 4 percent in 2002. It also contained a $500 signing bonus.
The company said the proposed agreement would increase an average production worker's wage and benefit package from $41,000 to $48,000 a year at the end of the contract period.
But workers said the $41,000 figure is misleading. The wage portion is only $32,000 a year on average for union workers, said Dale Hartford, a union representative on the negotiating committee.
Union negotiators had pushed for raises of 8 percent the first year and 7 percent in each of the following years.
But pay was not the main sticking point for the highly skilled workers who fear that cross-training provisions of the contract would weaken the value of the specialized work force and lead to layoffs in the future.
"This is not about money," insisted welder Dennis Campbellton. "This is about their ability to lay off as many people as they can."
Sunday's strike vote was triggered automatically when the company's proposal was rejected by 88 percent of the 3,700 workers who cast tallies. The union said 85.5 percent voted in favor of a strike in a second tally.
General Dynamics' marine division, which includes Bath Iron Works, Electric Boat in Groton, Conn., and NASSCO in San Diego, Calif., accounts for a quarter of the parent company's profits, analysts said.