Bosuns Complete Recertification in Piney Point

December 2010

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Seven SIU members reached a major milestone Nov. 8 when they received certificates for completing the bosun recertification course at the union-affiliated Paul Hall Center for Maritime Training and Education.


The credentials were presented during the union’s monthly membership meeting at the school in Piney Point, Md. Completing the four-week curriculum—regarded as the premier training available for unlicensed deck department personnel—and addressing their brothers and sisters during the meeting were: Bosuns Ray Nowak (from the port of Tacoma, Wash), Donald Clotter (Houston), William Dowzicky (Baltimore), Paul Gohs (Algonac, Mich.), Wilfredo Velez (San Juan, P.R.), Frank Sena (Wilmington, Calif.), and David Brown (Norfolk, Va.)


Besides taking part in hands-on exercises and classroom work at the Paul Hall Center, the bosuns met with managers and spokespersons from all ashore union administrative departments as part of their training experience. Discussions with these envoys about the union’s health and benefits plans, contract negotiations and enforcement, and the Seafarers LOG significantly enhanced the deck department leaders’ understanding of the many facets that must work in harmony to make the union strong.


Each of the union’s newest recertified bosuns, during their remarks expressed their appreciation to the school’s hotel staff for the accommodations they were afforded during their stay. They also thanked the school’s vocation staff for the quality instruction presented in the classroom and lauded union officials for their exceptional leadership. Finally, each offered guidance and words of encouragement to the unlicensed apprentices and upgraders who were in the audience.


Ray Nowak


Nowak joined the SIU in 1980 and was a member of Class 322. He has upgraded at the school several times including training for able seaman, tankerman and basic safety.


Looking back on his career, Nowak said he is thankful for what the union has meant to and for him. “I had some bumps in the road during my journey to where I am today,” he said. “I’ve seen the world and I learned how to drink like a seaman. But when it was time to do so, I got sober here at the school and I thank the union for that.”


Despite past personal impediments, Nowak said he believes that everybody needs to have a stabilizing anchor in their lives. “Mine is the SIU,” he said. “The union has allowed me the freedom to live my life as I choose. I work hard for extended periods and the reward is a long vacation.”


Reflecting on being back at the school for recertification training, Nowak said, “The experience of being back at Piney Point was very positive. I noticed a remarkable progression in the school from what it was 30 years ago when I came here the first time. It was nice to be here and visit with old shipmates, members, staff and apprentices.


“As a result of the bosun recertification training, I now have a much better understanding of contracts, pensions and medical benefits,” he said. “I also have a better knowledge of the apprentice program. This newly acquired knowledge will enable me to provide definitive answers to crew members when they pose various questions relating to the union and shipping industry.”


Nowak informed the trainees that a life at sea is not for everyone, but told them that just by being mariners they were part of something much larger than themselves.


“You are part of a great tradition. Respect that because it is something much bigger than you are,” he said. “You have a tremendous opportunity here as a result of the hard work of those who came before you. Respect their sacrifices and make the most of it. When you get out there on a vessel, be good shipmates and work hard.”


Nowak then challenged the trainees and upgraders to live by a credo that he personally has patterned his life after over the years: “Leave this place a little better place than it was when you got here,” he said.


Donald Clotter


Clotter donned the SIU colors in 1989 in Houston and has upgraded at the school on four separate occasions.


“The SIU has been good to me,” Clotter told the audience. “Since I became a member, I have seen many positive changes in my life and I’m grateful to those who have made these changes possible.”


He saw the bosun recertification experience at Piney Point as very refreshing. “The recertification class helped provide me with more knowledge and information to pass along to the crew, my brothers and sisters aboard the ship,” Clotter said. “Learning about contracts and benefits was a real help to me because you don’t want to give wrong answers to people who ask questions on the ship.


“The education I received about our union was very positive and is something I definitely will use in the future,” he continued. “The training, especially the communication skills instruction, will help me become a better mariner as I continue to upgrade my skills as a bosun.”


Clotter lauded the vocational staff for the role they play at the school and for the wisdom they imparted on him personally. “All of the teachers here have great teaching skills and very positive attitudes. They are great at what they do and I also think the entire union leadership is working extremely hard on behalf of its members,” he said.


Turning his attention to the trainees, Clotter offered: “Study hard and make the most of the wonderful opportunities the school gives you.

“I also would like to thank the people who made it possible for me to have the opportunity to be in this class,” he concluded. “They are President Mike Sacco, Executive VP Augie Tellez, VP Contracts George Tricker, VP Dean Corgey and Assistant VP Jim McGee.”


William Dowzicky


Dowzicky is no stranger to the school or to the union. He joined in 1977 and first visited the southern-Maryland campus as an apprentice. Since those early days he has returned to the school for upgrade training as an able seaman. He also has completed his requirements in advanced firefighting and fast rescue boat.


“I have nothing but good things to say about the school and my experience of being here again, this time for bosun recertification training,” he said. “I was especially impressed with the quality of the food, [excellent] accommodations and dedicated instructors. The union is doing a great job keeping the SIU and American-flag shipping afloat.”


Commenting on the extensiveness of his training, Dowzicky said, “I learned more about what the apprentice program is all about. I also learned about contracts and contract negotiations, what the union does in D.C. to help preserve and protect our jobs and the shipping industry, and how our SPAD donations are spent.”


Dowzicky told the trainees to study hard, work hard when they go aboard vessels and to return to Piney Point to upgrade their skills as often as possible.


“You are in a great industry and wonderful union,” he said. “So support your union by donating to SPAD when asked. It will help ensure the future of our industry and a lifelong career for you all.


“I look forward to seeing all of you out there…good luck and Godspeed,” he concluded.


Paul Gohs


Gohs joined the SIU in 2000 in the port of Piney Point. At that time, he was 18 years old. In addition to attending the school’s unlicensed apprentice course, he returned to the campus to upgrade as an able seaman and later to undergo basic safety training.


“I would like to start by saying thank you to our union leadership,” Gohs said as he addressed his sisters and brothers. “I’d also like to send thanks to the instructors for all of the hard work and dedication they put forth every day not only for myself, but also for everyone here today.”


Gohs said that the bosun recertification training was truly an enlightening experience for him. “My time here during this course has been extremely useful,” he said. “It has been a wonderful learning experience as well as an enjoyable one. I have enjoyed meeting fellow members, sharing their experiences and listening to their advice.


“By attending this class I learned that no matter what questions or problems a Seafarer may encounter, he or she can get remedies for them,” he said. “They (SIU members) can rely on the professional dedication of the union and its leadership to help them resolve any issue. It’s a great resource to know who to contact for answers.”


Gohs then shared an inspirational story involving Harry Lundeberg, the SIU’s first president, and a successful organizing campaign in the 1950s.


“This is past that you will inherit and it will influence and shape the future you all will create,” Gohs told the trainees. “Good luck and smooth sailing.”


Wilfredo Velez


Velez was next to address the audience. “I’ve been part of the SIU since 1991,” he said.


Like most of his classmates, Velez is not a stranger to Piney Point. After donning the SIU colors there as an unlicensed apprentice, he returned on four different occasions to enhance his skills.


“I began my career on tankers but have been sailing on containerships for the last 13 years,” he said. “I have sailed to many places around the world including Japan, Korea, West Africa, Panama, the Lesser Antilles and various ports within the United States. Thanks to the union, I have been able to fulfill my goals in life, raise a family and own a home.”


Commenting his bosun recertification training experience at the Paul Hall Center, Velez said, “I enjoyed all of the training. The small arms class was especially interesting…I never shot a gun before.


“It was also interesting to spend some time with the trainees, listen to some of their concerns and answer their questions,” he said. “I especially enjoyed having a room to myself. During my previous trips here for upgrading, I had to share the room with someone else on a couple of occasions. The hotel and the quality of the staff is top of the line and the gym is well-equipped.”


Velez then thanked the school staff and the union leadership for the good job they are doing protecting American-flag shipping. “It (U.S.-flag shipping) is vital to the economy as well as the national security,” he said. “It also keeps us working.”


Turning his attention to fellow rank-and-file members, Velez urged everyone in attendance to contribute to SPAD “It’s a big tool that we have to help us keep our jobs,” he said. “The Jones Act always will be under attack and we have to keep contributing to SPAD to keep our industry alive.”


Directing his attention to the trainees, Velez said, “While you are here, study hard. When you get on your first ship work hard, don’t be late and don’t be afraid to ask questions.” He also emphasized the importance of upgrading by telling the trainees to “return to the school often to upgrade your skills.


“Stay focused on your goals and pursue your dreams,” he concluded.


Frank Sena


Brother Sena has been sailing for 32 years, having joined the NMU when he was 26.


“I became a member of the SIU in 2001 in Wilmington during the merger,” he told the audience. “All of my family – my uncles and cousins – are mariners, so I figured that it would be a good life for me, and it has been so far. The SIU has made a big difference in my life. It has allowed me to earn good money while having a great career. I have been able to create a good life for my family. I thank the union members, instructors and leadership for all of these things. You all have done a great job.”


Sena said he was grateful for the educational opportunities the union has afforded him. “I was here for SCTW training before, so this is my second time at Piney Point,” he said. “The overall experience this time was very educational because I gained a lot of useful information about the union’s educational opportunities, history, and contracts. Also, I really enjoyed the small arms training; it taught us how to protect ourselves and our vessel while in other countries.”


Besides the bosun recertification curriculum, Sena said he thoroughly appreciated meeting other Seafarers. “I really enjoyed meeting and interacting with other brothers and sisters while here, especially the unlicensed apprentices,” he said. “I look forward to coming back here in the future to continue improving my skills.”


His advice to the trainees was be committed to their jobs and stay on their toes at all times. “When you are on a ship, always be on time, never be late,” he said. “When you are out there, you get no warnings…you get a letter and then you are fired and won’t come back for a couple of years. So work hard and stay together as a team.”


David Brown


Though Brown ships out of the port of Norfolk, he joined the union in 1991 in Wilmington. He has upgraded his skills at the school on two previous occasions.


“I serve as bosun on the crane ship Flickertail State,” he told the audience. “I work with some awesome shipmates and an overall great crew; I look forward to returning to work tomorrow.”


Commenting on his training experience, Brown said, “I was impressed with the increased emphasis on shipboard safety and improving the quality of the personnel that the union is providing to the industry customers. We were instructed to become better listeners in all situations.


“Piney Point is a pleasant atmosphere in which to undergo an educational experience,” he continued. “The landscape and structure are not unlike a fine college campus. The rooms and food are far superior. It is clear to me that no expense has been spared to make this an exceptional learning environment.


“From top to bottom, the personnel at the school are pros and facilities are top notch. The dedication is evident in the instructors, the support staff as well as in library and its staff. The transportation department is spot on and pleasant and room services are doing a fine job.” Behind the scenes Brown said he was sure that someone had to write a script for the school’s high standards. “I’m sure that they are proud of their work,” he said.


“I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Mike Sacco and our leadership team for keeping the SIU on course,” Brown said. “I have seen our contracts and job opportunities increase over the years. Likewise, pay, benefits and working conditions have improved dramatically, a result of your perseverance…thank you.”


Brown then welcomed the trainees aboard. “You look like a good lot,” he said. “My advice to you is to treat your opportunity here with pride and gratitude. When you get on your first ship, you are encouraged to ask questions; however, always keep your eyes and ears open.”


Brown told the trainees that the requirements to remain in the maritime industry are very rigid and that they will become even more so during their respective careers.


“Always stay informed and support you union,” he said. “I urge you to participate in your union’s affairs and to donate your fair share to SPAD to help further the SIU’s agenda and maintain our industry presence.”

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Bosun graduation

For their class photo, the recertified bosuns posed with union officials following their graduation. Included (photo above) were President Michael Sacco (sixth from left), VP Contracts George Tricker (fourth from left), VP Atlantic Coast Joseph Soresi (third from right), Plans Administrator Maggie Bowen (second from right), Assistant VP Atlantic Coast Ambrose Cucinotta (right) and Baltimore Port Agent Elizabeth Brown (third from left).