'Undercover Boss' Finds 'Really Great Crew'

March 2011

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SIU members were recently featured on the CBS television show “Undercover Boss” as Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL) President and CEO Kevin Sheehan went “undercover” as a member of the deck department aboard the union-contracted Pride of America.


The union crew made a very positive impression on Sheehan, who took over as head of the company in 2008. For the TV show, Sheehan worked as a deck repairman on the Pride of America while the ship was docked in Hawaii. The show aired in January.


Sheehan took part in various maintenance tasks under the guidance of SIU member AB John Nersten. Nersten showed Sheehan the ropes and gave him an inside look at life working for NCL, as well as the personal joys and hardships associated with working at sea.


“It’s heartwarming to see that we have crew members who are here because they love to be here,” Sheehan said while on board the Pride of America. “You get a great appreciation for what John and the 27 other people on his team do every single day to protect the ship and keep it in first-class condition. That makes you feel very good and it’s a confirmation that we’ve got a really great crew.”


Nersten proved a worthy ambassador for workers aboard the Pride of America as well as for SIU members in general. Nersten, from Brooklyn, N.Y., was raised in a seafaring family. His maternal grandfather worked aboard fuel barges on the Hudson River and his great uncle served as a merchant mariner during World War II.


After retiring from a telecommunications company in 2005, Nersten jumped at the opportunity to follow his dreams and become a seafarer.


“I knew that I wanted to be a merchant mariner,” he said. “I was in school for BST (basic safety training) the week after I retired.”


For Nersten, sailing with the SIU has given him wonderful experiences and memories.


“I love that I get to visit new places,” said Nersten. “I love the adventure, the unknown.”


While Sheehan’s efforts on the job didn’t make a particularly good impression on Nersten, Nersten and the other workers that Sheehan interacted with seem to have made a positive impact on him.


Following his undercover work, Sheehan made some significant changes to the way the company operated, including adjustments in amenities aboard some of the ships. In addition to these changes geared towards customer satisfaction, Sheehan also made some big strides in an effort to improve quality of life for workers aboard the ships.


Sheehan announced that the company would add $100,000 to the crew enrichment program. That program is set up to provide entertainment and activities, such as DVDs and parties, as well as other comforts. In addition, Sheehan made a $10,000 charitable donation in Nersten’s name and flew him and his family out to New York to visit relatives. Not only that, but Sheehan also sent Nersten, his wife, and his newborn daughter out on a seven-day cruise.


Nersten is continuing to aim high and credits the opportunities awarded to all Seafarers by the SIU to be major components in his success.


“What I like best about the SIU is that they give you an opportunity to advance,” Nersten said. “You control your own destiny, but they help with free schooling.”


Nersten plans on attending an upgrading program at the Paul Hall Center in Piney Point, Md., sometime this year, his first time at the SIU-affiliated school.


“I want to become a mate and they have opened the door for me to achieve it,” said Nersten.


The Pride of America is one of the highest customer-rated ships in the Norwegian Cruise Line fleet, in addition to being one of the most profitable. The vessel is staffed by more than 800 members of the SIU and its affiliated Seafarers Entertainment and Allied Trades Union (SEATU).

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