General Dynamics’ [GD] Bath Iron Works (BIW) admitted half of its workforce is taking time off during the COVID-19 pandemic while the company is offering increased benefits and has stepped up cleaning.

A company statement said it is increasing the number of crews focused on cleaning and disinfecting all work areas. As of March 30, BIW was using additional subcontractors to focus on more frequent disinfecting of workspaces and basic housekeeping “allowing BIW production employees to remain dedicated to necessary shipbuilding work.”

The future Zumwalt-class destroyer Lyndon B. Johnson (DDG-1002) was launched at the General Dynamics-Bath Iron Works shipyard in Bath, Maine on Dec. 9, 2018. (Photo: General Dynamics-Bath Iron Works)

BIW said it is “actively encouraging employees to take full use of the range of benefits and options including paid vacation and sick time to pursue what they believe are best for themselves and their families.”

It confirmed that “about half of the production workforce has availed themselves of the company’s time-off policies during this time,” while the company only knows of one confirmed COVID-19 case in its workforce.

Earlier in March BIW said it was taking measures to slow the spread of COVID-19. So far, its first employee confirmed to have the virus last worked in the yard on March 13 and BIW was having employees who came in close contact with them undergo a 14-day period of observation (Defense Daily, March 23).

At the time the company said employees were able to use sick, vacation, and floating holiday leave and try to qualify for Family Medical Leave in addition to a new amount of up to 80 hours of unpaid excused time off without risking their job.

Unions at the shipyard criticized this as not enough given school closures requiring more paid time off and argued the shipyard should be closed for two weeks with paid time off for employees.

According to the BIW coronavirus website, excused leave is extended through April 10, although this is not meant for employees who have received a positive diagnosis or test for COVID-19 or those with symptoms consistent with the virus.

For employees who did receive a positive test/diagnosis or were directed to quarantine by medical personnel, the company has expanded eligibility for accident and sickness benefits. This means these persons will receive up to five days of paid leave to satisfy the elimination period required under existing accident and sickness plans.

The company has also rescinded probation for eligibility for the basic accident and sickness plan.

Last week, BIW President Dirk Lesko told employees in a letter that “we’ve added a range of extra safeguards, expanded benefits and added resources to ensure you have what you need to work safe and be well.”

“Please make use of all the resources – the personal protections, the upgraded practices, the expanded benefits – so that we can continue to support our country by supporting our nation’s defenses,” he added.

Defense contractors, particularly shipyards, were notified earlier this month by the Defense Department their industries count as having critical workers working in national security who must stay on the job (Defense Daily, March 20).

Last week, Navy officials said they are expecting COVID-19 to impact shipyards like BIW but have not seen any direct effects yet (Defense Daily, March 24).

Assistant Secretary of the Navy James Geurts told reporters last week his team baselined current performance on contracts to better understand and distinguish delays due to the pandemic and for other reasons (Defense Daily, March 26).