by Chris Chase
Coastal Journal staff
BATH — In a rare double appearance, Maine’s Senator Susan Collins and recently elected Senator Angus King visited BIW together to express strong support for their ongoing operations.
The two senators took a tour of the facility to meet with employees and observe the work being done on the DDG-51 and DDG-1000 class destroyers.
“I am so proud, and I know that Angus is too, of the extraordinarily skilled and professional and dedicated workers at America’s best shipyard,” said Collins.
According to Collins, early on in King’s term the two of them sat down to determine which committees each could become a member of in order to assist the shipyards in the state.
“At the top of our list was making sure that we covered the important committees that had jurisdiction and would effect the work loads at BIW and the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard,” said Collins.
Currently, the continual operation of BIW is heavily threatened by the impending possibility of sequestration, a problem that both King and Collins have said they are determined to solve before it becomes a crisis.
“Angus and I are determined to do everything that we can to prevent that from happening,” said Collins.
Although he is only a few months into his first term as a U.S. Senator, King says his own experience with the workers of BIW soon after he was elected put the work ahead of him into perspective.
“I can tell you to the minute when I went from being a candidate to being a senator. And it wasn’t when I was sworn in, it was the morning after the election at six o’ clock when I stood at the south gate here at the yard and shook hands with people going in,” said King. “Most of them said ‘Congratulations, thank you for what you’re going to do for us,’ but I’d say one out of three stopped and looked me in the eye and said ‘Now you’ve got to go to work for us.’”
Both the senators feel that the most significant threat to the security of the U.S. is the budgetary chaos taking place in congress, as without a solid defense budget or secure future, the military is having a hard time determining which programs will be kept.
The looming threat for BIW is the loss of skilled workers if funding is not approved for their ongoing projects. If jobs are lost it can be difficult to re-hire workers who have moved on to other careers, and retraining workers takes a great deal of time and effort.
“If this place loses a lot of these skilled people, that we just saw out there on the DDG-1000, it’s not like you can just flip a switch in two or three years and they all reappear,” said King. “They’ll go their separate ways, they’ll go elsewhere in the country, they’ll go to other jobs in Maine.”
Currently, the threat still looms of funding cuts to BIW, but the shipyard still has enough projects to keep them going for a few years, according to Jeff Geiger, the president of BIW.
Workers at the shipyard have also remained positive about the current events in Congress. Dan Dowling, the president of BIW’s SG machinist union, responsible for representing 3,200 workers, said he appreciated the efforts and appearances of both senators.
“It can’t help but be a good sign,” said Dowling. “I had very little doubts.”