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Labor-union trouble at the Navy shipyard in Maine

General Dynamics takes a bath

Fred Harris, Kevin Faulconer, Bath Iron Works in background
  • Fred Harris, Kevin Faulconer, Bath Iron Works in background

There’s heavy-duty labor-union trouble brewing at the Bath Iron Works, the Navy shipyard in Maine run by General Dynamics, owner of National Steel and Shipbuilding here. Last year, as part of a turnaround effort, the Washington-based military contracting behemoth dispatched Fred Harris, chief executive of NASSCO, to simultaneously run Bath.

According to an August 22 Defense News report, Harris “attempted to install at Bath techniques and approaches that were successful in San Diego. One oft-reported example was an effort to hire non-permanent electricians to handle the surge in ship construction.” But unlike employees in laid-back San Diego, Maine’s union workers have rebelled. “‘FOF’ signs began to appear around Bath — a non-complimentary acronym that aimed union opposition personally at the yard president. Street demonstrations appeared earlier this year, and the yard’s troubles are being regularly reported in Maine’s media. The Bangor Daily News called the problems at Bath the ‘company’s largest labor unrest in decades.’”

It isn’t the first time Harris has faced controversy. Last year, the shipyard executive spearheaded a high-dollar General Dynamics–financed referendum drive backed by Republican mayor Kevin Faulconer that overturned the Barrio Logan community plan. Harris and his allies, including GOP ex-mayor and chamber of commerce head Jerry Sanders, maintained the plan would hinder shipyard operations and threaten jobs. The campaign was backed by GOP kingpin and then-U-T San Diego publisher Douglas Manchester, whose paper omitted reporting that General Dynamics owns a vast maquiladora plant in Mexico, to which a growing portion of San Diego shipyard work has been outsourced.

Depending on the outcome of closed-door negotiations now ongoing between Bath’s labor and management regarding achieving a new contract by a May deadline next year, things could get hotter still, says Defense News. “Has it shown up yet in their finances?” the trade journal quoted military stock analyst Byron Callan as saying. “I would say no it hasn’t, but I think that’s a question people should ask.”

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We need to break the unions and get them out of our pockets. If a given job can be done for $X, why on Earth should we pay $X+n to get it done? And spare me the "You would be working 30 hours a day in a coal mine during a snowstorm at 12 years old and be forced to carry iron beams around for three cents an hour like 500 days of the year without unions" nonsense... those days are LONG gone.

I have never been in a union; and yet have managed to make a very good living, good benefits, etc. How is that possible? If you need a group of coercive thugs with the power to shut a business down to keep your job, news flash... you aren't very good at your job.

Have you considered moving to Las Vegas, and heading a campaign to break the unions there? We'd like to see how that works out. ;-)

Oh really? American prosperity was at its height after WW II when unions were strongest. The erosion of the middle class is directly tied to the decline of unions which negotiated fair wages and good working conditions for its members who were the nation's labor force. No "outsourcing" to Mexico, no "independent contractor" electricians. Steelworkers' union kids went to Harvard College and moved from blue-collar futures to professions. The country was on a roll. You certainly couldn't claim that today. But it's great to hear that you personally are doing so well: THAT is a news flash.

Schools do not teach the history of labor so most people have no idea how the middle class was created. For the last 40 years workers have been taught that they do not need unions and that they can trust their employer to do the right thing and if not they can turn to the government to solve their problems. It amazes me that employers have a contract with everyone they do business with and employees sign contracts with everyone they do business with (rent, car financing, credit cards, etc,) and yet when it comes to employment no contract is necessary. I would be nice if employers were fair and valued their employees but that is not the real world. jnjor will be the first to wonder why the USA is a two class society of the wealthy and the working poor.

I doubt that "jnjor" will be the first to wonder anything, as he is "making a good living" now and is blind to what is happening outside his own charmed circle. "Coercive thugs?" I thought those were the Pinkerton boys who busted union heads on behalf of the corporate masters in the olden days.

The U.S. makes some of the best movies in the world. And in Hollywood, it's heavily union, for the crew and actors. This is a good thing, as it protects them against the greedy producers/studios who would like to pay them much less.

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