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    Saturday, July 13, 2024

    Before submarine christening, EB union workers protest new contract deal

    Electric Boat employees say the Pledge of Allegiance while they picket outside the main gate in Groton as guests arrive Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019, for the christening of the future attack submarine Oregon (SSN 793). (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Groton — At least 100 members of the Metal Trades Council at Electric Boat stood across from the main entrance of the company's headquarters here Saturday, just hours before a christening ceremony for the Navy's newest attack submarine, to protest a tentative agreement reached on a new contract for the union.

    The workers said they were hoping for a better deal, including increased wages and better benefits, given all the work coming into the shipyard now and in the future. EB is one of two private shipyards that build submarines for the U.S. Navy.

    Fifty-nine-year-old Pat Casey of Preston, a shipfitter who's worked at the company for about 39 years, held up a sign with the same message he conveyed in 1988, when 10,000 submarine builders went on strike after contract talks broke down between the MTC and the company: "Human need before corporate greed."

    Casey said health care premiums would go up under the new contract and called the 3 percent raises negotiated as part of the contract "meager," and not on par with what members have received in previous contracts. He said he would be voting against approving the contract.

    The company and union heads announced on Sept. 27, the same day that MTC's current contract expired, that they reached a tentative agreement on a new, four-year contract, saying they "engaged in interest-based bargaining to find common areas of interest."

    The head of the MTC, Ken DelaCruz said in an interview with The Day several days later that he expected all the submarine construction work to translate into a better agreement for the members.

    The 2,800-plus members of the MTC, which represents boilermakers, office and professional employees, pipefitters, machinists, Teamsters, laborers, electricians and painters, will vote on Tuesday whether to approve the new contract.

    Company spokeswoman Liz Power said in an emailed statement Saturday that it was "an important day for all 17,000 shipbuilders of Electric Boat, our Navy and our nation."

    "At EB we take great pride in what we do — design, build, test and maintain the world's finest submarines — and pause today to commemorate the important contributions we all make to our nation's defense," Power said.

    The workers protesting Saturday said they wanted to vote on Friday, indicating many would've voted no, to make a statement to the company ahead of the christening of the future attack submarine Oregon.

    "Now there's no leverage," said 49-year-old Leslie Stack of Montville, a shipfitter who has worked at EB for 11 years.

    Protesters dressed in red shirts, some with the words "union strong" across the front, held signs with statements such as "More money in your purse as our contract gets worse" and "The more they make the more they take." About a dozen police officers monitored the demonstration, which resulted in no incidents.

    David Triplett, 64, who's close to retirement, said that for him, the protest was about standing up for the next generation of shipyard workers.

    "This is a bad way to start out a new workforce. This is taking the wind out of their sails," he said of the deal.

    Triplett said he came to EB 39 years ago as a steelworker from Pittsburgh, Penn., because the company "needed bodies" as it built the Trident class of ballistic-missile submarines.

    Now, EB is preparing to build a new class of ballistic-missile submarines, the Columbia class, which will patrol the world's oceans from the 2040s into the 2080s. At the same time, the company will continue to build attack submarines.

    The company has hired thousands of new trades workers in recent years to carry out the influx in work. Paul Preston, 31, is one of those new hires. He said he makes about $21 per hour as an outside electrician who has been on the job three years.

    He said he felt union heads could've negotiated a better deal, especially with all the work in the shipyard.

    "I think they rolled over," Preston said.

    He said he planned to vote to approve the contract. "But if it does get voted down, I'll be back out here," he said.

    Alan Smith, a 31-year-old welder who has worked at EB for 10 years, said he plans to vote no on the agreement. Smith, of Lisbon, said he loves his job and is proud to say he builds submarines, "they're just making it difficult right now."

    j.bergman@theday.com

    Electric Boat employees picket outside the main gate in Groton as guests arrive Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019, for the christening of the future Navy attack submarine Oregon. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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