BATH, Maine — Following a contentious year that saw Bath Iron Works management and its largest union battle over a new contract, a new president is at the helm of that union, just as the shipyard readies its bid to build a new class of Coast Guard cutter.
Former vice president Rich Nolon replaced Jay Wadleigh as president of the roughly 3,700-member Local S6 of the machinists union on Feb. 22, after Wadleigh took a position as a business representative for the union’s District Lodge 4, Nolon confirmed Monday.
A day before BIW is due to submit its bid on building a new class of Coast Guard offshore patrol vessels, Nolon said Monday that he’s hopeful, but “not 100 percent confident,” that the company’s bid will be competitive, given the advantages of competitors Bollinger Shipyards Lockport LLC in Lockport, Louisiana, and Eastern Shipbuilding Group Inc. in Panama City, Florida. Nolon cited better weather conditions and lower wage and benefit packages as potential competitive advantages for the southern shipyards.
“I’m hoping it will be close enough,” he said. “It used to be that we could stand by our quality alone, but the way the federal government has changed how it does business, that’s gone away. It’s all about costs now — even with the Navy and the DDGs. But I think quality will win out … as long as it’s a reasonable [bid].”
In February 2014, the U.S. Coast Guard awarded Bath Iron Works a $21 million contract for preliminary design work on offshore patrol cutters. The two competing southern shipyards also secured contracts, for a total award of $65 million.
Construction for the 25 ships could be worth up to $11 billion, U.S. Naval Institute News reported. The Coast Guard is expected to select one of the three yards to perform the next phase of the cutter project — detail design and options for construction of up to nine cutters — by the end of fiscal year 2016, before selecting a single contractor to build the remaining cutters of the original 25.
In December, following a year of protests and lawsuits over changes proposed by shipyard President Fred Harris, members of Local S6 voted 1,343-1,045 to approve a new four-year contract that included $2,500 annual bonuses instead of pay raises, among other concessions.
Shipyard officials had said early resolution of the labor contract was necessary to allow the shipyard to bid on the Coast Guard cutters, as well as for the next multi-year contract for U.S. Navy destroyers.
Nolon said Monday that he is curious to see BIW’s bid, which he hopes to do later this week, particularly to see if changes implemented by company management since negotiations ended have produced a more competitive bid than was suggested at the time.
But according to Nolon, workflow issues continue “and are still a huge problem” for workers, although he said they may be improving.
“I’ve seen a little bit of headway,” he said. “I’ve seen some things that maybe give me hope that they’re going to get it fixed. It’s a tiny light at the end of the tunnel when you really need much more light to see where you are going.”
Bath Iron Works spokesman Matt Wickenheiser declined to comment on Monday.