Battles Continue

Seafarers Log, April 2011

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Michael Sacco, PresidentBetween ongoing budget battles in Washington, a new global campaign against piracy, and our never ending efforts to secure and maintain good jobs for the rank-and-file membership, the SIU remains fully engaged on maritime-specific issues.


But this month, I have to begin by offering a heartfelt word of solidarity to our brothers and sisters in the public sector. Anyone who’s read a newspaper or watched TV in the last month undoubtedly is aware of the state-level attacks against Americans who belong to public-sector unions. These disgusting legislative assaults aren’t based on facts or budgets, but on stripping workers of their bargaining rights.


Everyone knows our nation is struggling with the worst economy in decades. What everyone also should know is that the public-sector workers who provide important services to our communities did not create any budget shortfalls. They are being blamed by some politicians and commentators for problems they didn’t cause.


Collective bargaining didn’t set off these economic troubles, either. Taxpayers are better off in states where public workers exercise their rights to bargain for wages and working conditions and benefits. You don’t have to be an economist to know that workers who are well-trained and understand their jobs regularly perform better and more efficiently. Just ask the companies that know what it means to have Seafarers under contract.


Blaming working families and their unions isn’t the answer in Wisconsin or anywhere else. Neither is promoting so-called right-to-work legislation, which has proven year after year to drive down wages. The answer is to focus on creating good jobs. Public-sector workers already have taken pay cuts and refused pay raises to maintain health care and other benefits. They’re already sharing a burden they didn’t create, and it’s unfair for any governor or talk-show host or anyone else to point fingers at our union brothers and sisters.


We have marched in solidarity with those members and will continue to support them in every way possible.


Meanwhile, as I mentioned last month, we are right there on the front lines of budget fights in the nation’s capital that promise to have a huge impact on maritime. By way of proposed lack of funding, critical items including our nation’s cargo preference laws and the Title XI shipbuilding loan guarantee program are being attacked, and those aren’t the only maritime issues in the crosshairs. Our members’ livelihoods depend on a number of these programs, and that’s more than enough motivation for us to stay on top of these battles for as long as it takes to win.


Additionally, I want to thank all SIU members who’ve signed up for the new anti-piracy campaign at the “Save Our Seafarers” web site. If you haven’t already done so, please take a minute and visit the site. It is prominently linked on our own home page, and we have member-accessible computers set up in all of our union halls as well as at headquarters and in Piney Point.


Details about the campaign appear elsewhere in this edition. But I have to add one thing about this ongoing struggle against Somali piracy. I forget who first made the comparison, but it really drove home an eye-opening point: Can you imagine what the world’s reaction would be if 800 airline passengers and flight crews were being held hostage in Somalia? I have a strong hunch it wouldn’t be allowed to drag on, yet that’s exactly what is happening with mariners whose ships were taken over by those waterborne terrorists.


Like so many other aspects of our industry, the solution to this problem has to start with political action. That’s the point of “Save Our Seafarers,” and the very early returns are promising. This is literally a life-and death issue and we are treating it as such.


Finally, I encourage the membership to take some time and read about the recent meetings of the Maritime Trades Department executive board. The comments by our guest speakers are very relevant to shipboard employment and your future. Also, the supportive words from the two military commanders who addressed the MTD are nothing short of inspirational. Check it out and be proud of the job you’re doing as part of America’s “fourth arm of defense.”

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