The U.S. Navy is keeping tabs on a strike over pay at General Dynamics' Bath Iron Works
, producer of its most advanced surfaced combatant, but was steering clear of any involvement in the labor dispute. "At this point, we're just ... monitoring the situation real closely," said Dick Cole of the Arlington, Va.-based Naval Sea Systems Command, which oversees the building of the Navy's fleet and the manufacturing of its onboard weapons. Federal acquisition regulations require the Navy to remain impartial in a dispute between labor and the managers of any of its contracts, Cole said. Picket lines went up on Monday at Bath, Maine's largest employer with about 7,000 workers. The shipyard is the lead designer and builder of the Arleigh Burke Class AEGIS guided missile destroyer, the world's most technologically advanced surface fighter. Representatives of Machinists Union Local 6 said the company's last offer of a three-year contract with raises of 4 percent this year, 3.5 percent next year and 4 percent in 2002 was rejected by a vote of about 3,200 to 450. Bath Iron Works has built about 450 ships for the Navy since it delivered the first in 1893. It has served as lead shipyard for 10 Navy surface ship classes, more than any other U.S. shipyard.