BIW chief’s abrupt departure is the latest disruption for Maine’s 4th-largest private employer

The sudden and unexplained resignation of the chairman of Bath Iron Works on Thursday followed union disputes and production delays that the yard has struggled to overcome in recent years.

But that tension is unlikely to be the reason for Dirk Lesko’s abrupt departure as head of Maine’s fourth largest private sector employer, according to defense industry analysts who closely follow BIW and its parent company, the defense contracting giant General Dynamics.

Lesko had been chairman of the Navy shipbuilder, which has about 7,000 employees, since 2016.

The company said in a brief memo to employees that Robert Smith, General Dynamics’ executive vice president for Marine Systems, will lead the shipyard until a permanent replacement is named.

BIW spokesman David Hench and General Dynamics spokesman Jeff Davis declined to comment on the reason for Lesko’s resignation.

The change of command is the latest in a series of disruptions the shipyard has experienced in recent years. Notable challenges include a nine-week strike in 2020 by Local S6, the shipyard’s largest union; significant production delays; and an active hiring effort to increase the shipyard workforce and replace retiring shipbuilders.

“The shipyard was running well, but what we can see with this leadership spill is the result of rapid increases in material and labor costs across the General Dynamics company,” said Craig Hooper, CEO of Themistocles Advisory Group, a Maryland-based national security consulting firm. “What may look good at the shipyard level may not work at the corporate level, and this pressure to reconcile those differences may be too strong for some leaders to fight.”

Loren Thompson, chief operating officer of the Virginia-based Lexington Institute, said he was confident the Bath Shipyard would recover from the sudden loss of its leader.

“I have great faith in BIW,” he said. “It’s been around for a long time and probably will be for many decades to come.”

Lesko’s resignation follows a pay dispute between local S6 and shipyard management.

Just days before Lesko’s April 4 resignation, the union said on its website that the company had walked away from a deal to address what the union said was a pay gap.

In response, the union said it would withdraw from a committee formed to help management and employees work together to improve production speeds, and file an “unfair labor practice charge for bargaining in bad faith.” against BIW.

That dispute, however, appeared to have been resolved Thursday before Lesko resigned the same day after a meeting with Commissioner Martin Callaghan of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service about the dispute.

Union leaders wrote on their website and Facebook page that the joint labor-management group on production delays would continue, but did not say whether they were planning or had already filed a grievance and an unfair practice charge. of work.

“The company has demonstrated its commitment to working collectively with the union to address all aspects of shipbuilding so that our members can continue to benefit from increased wages and job security,” reads the April 7 letter to members.

Local S6 spokesman Tim Suitter declined to comment on Lesko’s resignation.

Thompson said there wasn’t much to read about Lesko’s departure.

“It’s not about the performance of the shipyard, or the strike, or the Navy,” he said. “It just has to do with a violation of company policy. It’s a pretty simple matter.

Thompson said he received the information from “industry sources” but would not elaborate.

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