Effective Partnership Good for America

April 2010

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Mike SaccoA highlight from the recent meeting of the AFL-CIO Maritime Trades Department executive board was the presentation by General Duncan McNabb, commander of the U.S. Transportation Command.

Depending on whether you’re reading this article on the web or in our union newspaper, you may already have seen General McNabb’s photo and read some of his remarks to the MTD. In any case, he was very gracious and undoubtedly sincere when he described the American-flag maritime industry – including SIU members and other U.S. civilian mariners – as valuable partners who boost our national and economic security.

A few weeks later, he made similar, supportive statements when testifying before the House Armed Services Committee. On March 17, General McNabb said, “One of our greatest advantages over any adversary is our nation’s strategic ability to move – it is a crown jewel in our National Strategy and gives us our true global reach.” Part of that capability is the U.S. Military Sealift Command, one of the Transportation Command’s components.

He also urged continued support of pro-maritime initiatives including the Maritime Security Program (MSP), among others. And he said that TRANSCOM’s partnerships with the U.S. commercial sealift industry “give us critical access to U.S. commercial capability while ensuring the availability of a viable U.S.-flag maritime industry and U.S. citizen mariner pool in times of national emergency.”

It’s an honor for our industry to have the support of a leader like General McNabb, and I know we’ll continue to earn his trust and confidence.

One of the steps that will help us accomplish that goal is the extension and expansion of the MSP. As the SIU noted in our own testimony prepared for a separate Congressional hearing last month, the current version of the program expires in just a few short years. It would cost literally billions of dollars to replicate the tonnage and infrastructure currently available to our military through MSP. The cost of replacing the manpower pool really cannot be measured. When you add it all together, you get a program which has been described year after year by our nation’s military leaders, including General McNabb, as an invaluable bargain.

The bottom line is that the MSP is a proven, effective program with widespread backing. It benefits not only our industry but our nation.

Health Care
The fight over health insurance reform has been intense and complicated, as was evident when the House recently passed health care legislation patterned after the bill approved by the Senate on Christmas Eve. If there’s one thing everyone seems to agree on – supporters and opponents alike – it’s that the newly signed bill isn’t perfect.

While it’s too soon to know in fine detail exactly how the new rules and regulations will affect the SIU, for the most part it doesn’t appear as if they will mean much to people who already have medical benefits through their employer. As our old-timers know, the SIU has always made sure we could afford the benefits we offered our members and their families. The biggest changes apply to the uninsured – an additional 32 million people will be covered. We will continue analyzing what it all means for the Seafarers Plans and we’ll be reporting on it.

Meanwhile, this bill contains a number of labor-supported improvements, not the least of which is the elimination of denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions. It also bans charging higher rates due to pre-existing conditions and outlaws the practice of insurers dropping coverage when someone files a claim or is diagnosed with a condition requiring expensive treatment.

Other key components include eliminating 85 percent of the tax on benefits (contained in the Senate bill) that would have penalized working families. Instead, the bill signed by President Obama substitutes a tax on the wealthy stipulating that Medicare contributions be paid on unearned income. It also extends the age for dependent coverage to 26.

Again, the bill isn’t perfect, but it’s not the abomination that some are portraying it to be. It’s a start and it’s something we can build on.

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