The Bath Iron Works shipyard, one of the state's largest employers and a key piece of its coastal economy, is going through a leadership transition that will elevate an insider to run it.
Parent company General Dynamics Corp. said Monday that Dirk Lesko, who has worked at the shipyard in various capacities since 1990, has been elected a vice president of the corporation and appointed president of Bath Iron Works. The shipyard employs 6,000 people in the state.
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The parent company said the appointment is effective Jan. 1 following the retirement of Frederick Harris. Its executive vice president John P. Casey praised Harris for "significant contributions to the U.S. Navy's shipbuilding programs." The iron works has built naval and commercial ships since the 19th century.
The shipyard's Machinists Union Local S6 president Rich Nolan said the union has a "fairly decent working relationship" with Lesko, who was named vice president and general manager for Bath Iron Works in August 2015. Lesko has also held other leadership positions in program management, planning and finance with the shipyard.
Nolan said Harris was unpopular with many union members and the end of his tenure will likely boost morale.
"Some of the message that Harris made that caused anxiety was that we weren't building the best ships in the world," Nolan said. "Workers here feel very strongly that Bath built is best built."
A spokeswoman for the shipyard said that Harris was not doing interviews on Monday and that the shipyard had no comment beyond the statement issued by General Dynamics.
Recent months at the shipyard have been tumultuous. Shipbuilders approved concessions late last year in hopes of winning a Coast Guard contract to preserve up to 1,200 jobs. The shipyard was eventually underbid, leaving workers worried about future job cuts.
Bath Iron Works is located in Bath, 35 miles up the coast from Portland. U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat who represents the area, said she was glad to see General Dynamics looked internally to hire Lesko.
"At such a critical time for Bath Iron Works, it's important that this be a quick and smooth transition," Pingree said.
General Dynamics also announced that Kevin Graney has been elected a vice president of the corporation and appointed president of its NASSCO shipyards, headquartered in San Diego.