FILE - ME Bath Iron Works strike 6-22-2020

Striking shipbuilders picket June 22, 2020, outside an entrance to Bath Iron Works in Bath, Maine.

(The Center Square) – For the first time in two decades, Bath Iron Works (BIW) employees have walked off the job in a strike over wages and benefits, a move that has prompted layoffs by the shipbuilding company.

Roughly 4,000 members of Machinists Local S6, BIW’s largest union, have been on strike since June 22, but the job cuts took place in another union, Local 57.

"While we have explored all available options to reassign impacted employees to other jobs, unfortunately no such opportunities are available," BIW president Dirk Lesko said in a letter excerpted by WMTW.

The temporary layoffs are for surveyors and trades inspectors. But if not enough people volunteer, the company will transition to involuntary layoffs, which would be based on seniority.

"While these layoffs are temporary in nature, their impact on employees and their families is real and immediate. At a time when we are behind schedule, it is frustrating to be sending our employees home. However, the disruption of the strike leaves no other option," Lesko said.

Tim Suitter, spokesman for Local S6, characterized Lesko’s letter as an attack.

“When they [BIW] keep wanting to throw the anti-union rhetoric around, and continue to blame the workers, instead of going back and looking to come through a contract. So we can get back to work building ships for the United States Navy," Suitter said.

Meanwhile, the S6 Union posted a notice on its website Thursday, telling workers that anyone who crosses the picket line will be fined once the strike ends.

The S6 Union represents about 4,300 of BIW’s 6,700 employees.

In a response posted by WGME, the company said, “The law clearly recognizes that employees have the right to continue working, rather than participate in the strike. The law also recognizes that they have the right to do so without being unlawfully harassed and threatened.”

The workers and company remain at an impasse over subcontracting and changing seniority privileges, the Portland Press Herald reported.