BATH, Maine (NEWS CENTER) — More than 5,000 people at Bath Iron Works are wondering about their futures after the shipyard lost out on a bid for a new contract with the Coast Guard.
A shipyard in Florida has been awarded the multi-billion dollar contract to build nine new Coast Guard cutters, and there may be more ships built after that.
BIW’s president had said for two years there would be significant layoffs if the company did not win that contract. BIW had been in one of three shipyards competing for that contract. Each yard was given a $21 million grant two years ago to pay for design and planning for the new cutter proposals, and eventual bids.
The shipyard is currently building or has contracts for a total of nine Navy ships, but union leaders said it wanted the Coast Guard contract to help diversify production and help spread out costs among more projects to lower the price on future Navy bids.
BIW President Fred Harris pushed the unions to cut costs to help make the shipyard more competitive. The 3,400 members of Local S-6 passed a new contract in January with major concessions to help the Coast Guard bid, but those changes apparently were not enough to win the contract.
“I think there was a big enough price difference the Coast Guard couldn’t opt for the more expensive,” said Local S-6 President Rich Norton. “[T]he way the economy’s changed and government budgets have changed, cost is a driving force today.”
As for the prospect of layoffs, BIW wasn’t commenting on Friday. Company president Harris has suggested in the past there could be 1,200 or more, but union president Nolan said he thinks the number may not be that high. As for timing, Nolan told NEWS CENTER he doesn’t think layoffs are “imminent.” He did predict layoffs will hit both union and management employees.
When layoffs do come, they will likely be felt well beyond Bath. BIW’s roughly 5,500 employees come from a wide area of Maine.
“It’s not going to feel good for people who will lose their jobs,” said Bath City Council chair Mari Eosco, "but I suspect it will not happen at one location so one community won’t feel the brunt of the impact.”
Union president Nolan said there have not yet been any discussions with company management about layoffs, or about any possible incentives to have older workers retire. He said about a third of the union’s members have more than 30 years experience at the shipyard, and that some are near typical retirement age.
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