BATH, Maine — Bath Iron Works has hired a national labor relations strategy company to work with management and its largest union in an effort to ease tensions that have at times boiled over in the last year.

The Gephardt Group, led by former U.S. Rep. Dick Gephardt, will begin meeting with small groups of employees — both management and labor — “to try and improve the relationship and help facilitate discussions,” Jay Wadleigh, president of Local S6 of the Machinists Union, said Monday. “They came to us with a [company] name that has respect on both sides — particularly the labor side — and leadership met with them offsite last week. It looks like it’s something that could work.”

The meetings are planned with an eye toward positioning the company to bid competitively on a new U.S. Coast Guard Offshore Patrol Cutter program in 2016, according to a memo distributed to employees Monday by BIW and Local S6, the union with the most members at the shipyard.

“We strongly encourage you to participate in these meetings and to provide the Gephardt Group with a fair, honest and thorough understanding of your perspective,” the memo states. “It will help inform the Gephardt Group and us as we continue our conversations.”

Wadleigh said he sees the step as “a sign of an improving relationship” between management and the union.

Gephardt served in the U.S. House from 1976 to 2004, representing Missouri’s 3rd District. He led House Democrats — as both majority and minority leader — from 1995 to 2003. He ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004.