Bath Iron Works Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik

Discord among members of Bath Iron Works’ largest union has prompted international union leadership to send a district official to Bath to oversee operations at the local union office.

Eight months before a new slate of union officers is due to be elected — and with negotiations on a new contract due to begin soon — all 10 members of the Local S6 executive board signed a letter to the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers union asking for help to assure rank-and-file shipbuilders that local leaders are running the chapter according to its rules.

Jay Wadleigh, a former president of Local S6 who is now at the District 4 office of the IAMAW in Lisbon, has been summoned to supervise union operations in Bath, according to John Carr, an IAMAW spokesman based in New York. The district level is above the local union level but below the national IAMAW.

“The executive board members asked for assistance to make sure they were providing duties in the way they’re supposed to for provisions in the bylaws and constitution,” Carr said.

“Wadleigh is handling what international union president [Robert Martinez Jr.] directed him to assist the executive board in seeing to the welfare of the membership and assisting them to follow the bylaws,” he said.

Carr would not specify what prompted the Local S6 board to ask for help. He did say that such supervisory help has occurred at other local union sites throughout the United States.

Carr said all of the duly elected officers of the local executive board will remain in their positions, running day-to-day operations, including Local S6 President Mike Keenan.

Keenan, a shipfitter who was president of Local S6 from 2001 to 2008, was re-elected as president in 2016 of the 3,500-member union, and took office in January 2017.

In 2008, Keenan, a controversial leader, and three other officers of the local chapter were escorted from the union hall amid claims of financial mismanagement and pornography being viewed on union-owned computers.

Keenan denied the allegations, but the chapter was placed into receivership as he and other officials were suspended.

The IAMAW eventually returned control of the chapter to Local S6. Keenan was barred from running for office for four years and former chief steward Michael Cyr for two.

After an interim president, Dan Dowling, served as union president until 2013. Three years later, Keenan lost a bid for the seat to Wadleigh, who was elected and served until February 2016, when Wadleigh took a position with the union’s district Lodge 4 in Lisbon.

Carr declined to say what prompted executive board members to request assistance, but said, “Financial transactions aren’t even indicated by any means.”

He said Wadleigh will review the executive board’s concerns and recommend how to handle them.

Reached Friday, Keenan referred all questions to Wadleigh. Other members of the executive board on Monday also declined to comment.

Keenan was elected shortly after a controversial four-year contract, negotiated under Wadleigh’s leadership and approved with a 1,343-1,045 vote of the membership, took effect. The contract allowed for $2,500 annual bonuses to replace annual raises, among a number of other concessions the company argued were necessary to keep it competitive for future Navy contracts.

Wadleigh declined to comment Monday about the reason he was called in to supervise. However, a Nov. 27, 2018, letter from Keenan to BIW President Dirk Lesko hints at one of a number of conflicts among union members in recent months, as they prepare to elect a leadership team in November.

In the letter, posted on the Local S6 Facebook page, Keenan wrote that following “issues” the previous year, and again that month, the company denied unspecified requests by S6 leadership regarding working Dec. 31.

Subsequent posts refer to a company flyer as “a calculated move to divide and conquer,” suggested management might be violating the National Labor Relations Act, and accused the company of “pick[ing] a fight” and “divisive tactics to split [the] membership.”

In comments, shipyard employees both called for a strike in 2020 and expressed frustration with union leadership for “pushing an issue they agreed to.”

“I usually agree with our union, but I am starting to see who is causing this ‘divide,’” one employee wrote.

With a significant backlog of work now, including contracts to build one DDG 51 destroyer each in fiscal year from 2019 through 2022 — and with the possibility of three additional ships as well as being well-positioned to bid on building a new class of guided-missile frigate for the Navy — the company is currently in the process of hiring approximately 1,000 people.

Those new hires would replace a wave of recent retirees — for whom the bonus payment in the current contract was attractive — and fill new positions created to handle the strong workload.

So the union discord comes at a time when the shipyard’s financial footing appears rosier than it has been in recent years, despite competition from southern shipyards where unions are less influential.

BDN writer Lori Valigra contributed to this report.

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