From the Hudson to Haiti

February 2010

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Mike SaccoIn the days leading up to the event, I read about plans for a happy reunion of many of the people who were involved in the Miracle on Hudson, including some of our own SIU members from NY Waterway ferries.

Last month, they went on to celebrate the first anniversary of an improbably joyful ending – one that saw all hands saved following an airplane’s crash-landing in the Hudson River on January 15, 2009.

I remain proud of our members’ quick, effective responses on that day. And I also have been proud on those occasional opportunities to tell people that Seafarers were first on the scene for the rescue. What happened that day was, to say the least, challenging and unusual, but it helped remind people about the importance and reliability of well-trained
U.S. mariners.

Almost one year to the day later, America got another such reminder, only this time the situation proved horribly tragic. The earthquake that demolished much of Haiti left all of us sympathetic, upset and wanting to help. Once again, SIU members are doing their part, sailing ships for the relief mission as part of Operation Unified Response. Members also are donating their own money to further help the cause. The union is stepping up, too – we are contributing to the AFL-CIO Solidarity Center’s Earthquake Relief for Haitian Workers’ Campaign.

The overwhelming concern here is for the earthquake victims. The scope of the tragedy is so large it’s hard to comprehend. Recovery operations will take years. At the same time, I appreciated the words of U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood when he cited the U.S. Merchant Marine’s rapid response. He correctly pointed out that our vessels are on a lifesaving mission – not just the hospital ship Comfort, but all of our ships that have been deployed. That’s something to keep in mind when weighing the ongoing need for, and enormous value of the American-flag fleet and the loyal, dedicated mariners who deliver the goods.

Jobs and More
While legislators continue debating the merits of health insurance reform legislation, the AFL-CIO is pushing for badly needed growth in my favorite subject: jobs, jobs, jobs!

Recently I told you about the federation’s five-point program aimed at creating more than 4 million jobs. It’s a proposal that includes extending unemployment benefits, including COBRA, plus expanding federal infrastructure and “green jobs” investments. It calls for substantially boosting federal aid to state and local governments and for direct job creation where practical. It also makes the case for direct lending of TARP money to small and medium-sized businesses that can’t get credit due to the financial crisis.

This is the right plan at the right time, and it will go a long way towards helping relieve the double-digit unemployment currently plaguing our country.

At the same time, the AFL-CIO and its member unions, including the SIU, certainly have not abandoned our efforts to further educate legislators and the administration about our position on health care. Seafarers know that the fight over health insurance reform is a big one, and it’s complicated. However it turns out, it’s unlikely that any one party will get 100 percent of what they wanted. What is certain is that health care costs too much, and decent, affordable care should be available to everyone. We’ll continue working toward that end for however long it takes.

Another ongoing effort of the SIU and other maritime unions involves anti-piracy measures and steps to protect our crews (as well as those of other nations). Partly due to security reasons, we rarely go into detail about what’s already been done or about our latest endeavors. But we remain very active in this most important struggle, both on Capitol Hill and in the international maritime community. The protection of our crews is a must. On that point, there’s no room for negotiations.

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