Maritime: Part of the Solution

November 2011

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President's Report by SIU President Michael Sacco


Since the economic downturn that began four years ago, millions of Americans have lost their jobs, their savings and – in too many cases – their homes. Officially, the national unemployment rate still tops nine percent, but even that grim statistic doesn’t tell the whole story. When factoring in those individuals who are working at jobs not in line with their educational and skill levels, plus those who’ve given up trying to find a job, the percentage shoots up to around 16 percent.


Unemployment and under-employment is, I believe, a big factor in the “Occupy Wall Street” demonstration and related ones that are happening across the country. Yes, those rallies are about many issues, but what most of the participants really want and need are jobs. The message hasn’t always been singular or clear, but one point the protesters have made is that our system is badly out of whack – the top one percent is pocketing massive profits and dominating our politics while too many others struggle to make ends meet. As we’ve said in the labor movement time and time again, it’s time to level the playing field.


It’s also time to recognize that the American maritime industry can and must be part of the solution when it comes to putting people back to work. I applaud the efforts being made by President Obama to create jobs for Americans. At the same time, I would urge the administration and Congress to realize that maritime should be a major part of any infrastructure investment. The U.S.-flag maritime industry is a key segment of the U.S. economy.


In his speeches across the country, President Obama has drawn attention to several important projects. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka noted that when he said, “We can no longer delay putting Americans back to work and rebuilding our nation’s schools, roads, bridges, transit, ports, rail, communications and energy systems.”


I agree, and further add that not only can the maritime industry, as a vital part of America’s infrastructure, put people to work, it can do so right way. Look no further than the long-talked-about marine highway program as an example.


The waterway system already is in place to move cargo from one domestic port to another to ease congestion on highways and the rails. We have well-trained, safety-conscious American citizen crews available to move the goods. But what we need are the ships. We have shipyards closing because of a lack of work, yet our domestic fleet needs modernization if it is to compete with the expected expansion in world trade within the next decade.


Additionally, we have ports that have not been dredged in years along the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf coasts, as well as the Great Lakes. How will America continue to be a major player in international trade if ships cannot enter our harbors? And how will American-made goods get to the ports or imports reach American consumers if we don’t have our highway and rail systems upgraded to meet the needs?


America’s maritime unions have well-trained, experienced members ready to do what is needed. We have joint union-management educational facilities that can prepare the current and next generation of mariners for what is to come. We simply need America to refocus its attention to getting our people back to work – and to include the maritime industry in those plans. Of course, as Americans return to the workforce, the budget deficit will shrink. By having people back on the job, they will stimulate the economy, thus more retail jobs will be created. They will resume paying local, state and federal taxes, which will provide needed dollars to repair and replace infrastructure.


The SIU stands ready to help as Americans are re-employed, rebuild and recover.


Happy Holidays


As we head toward the winter holidays, I extend my best wishes to all Seafarers, retirees and their families, as well as to our armed forces all across the globe. Whether you spend the holidays at sea or on deployment,here’s to enjoyable, safe, healthy times.

 

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