Like Sons, Like Father


Seafaring Life Proves Great Fit for Ross Family


April 2012


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Seafaring careers often run in families, but for Jim Ross and his sons, Zachary and Grayson, the proverbial torch wasn’t handed down.


Instead, Jim followed his sons’ path from California through the SIU-affiliated Paul Hall Center for Maritime Training and Education and into the union. The three of them sail in the engine department, and all say they are quite pleased with their careers.


Jim, who turns 55 this month, already knew the benefits of union representation from prior work as a meat cutter long before he arrived at the Paul Hall Center’s Piney Point, Md., campus in January 2010. He knew the pitfalls of non-union work, too, and lost his managerial job when the recession started.


“I was very interested in getting back into a union,” Jim said. “Non-union is a cut in pay and cut in lifestyle.”


He was working in landscaping in early 2009 – a time when Grayson and Zach were studying as members of Paul Hall Center Unlicensed Apprentice Class 719.


“They both told me I should get started with the school and the SIU,” Jim recalled.


He went to Piney Point within a year and quickly knew he’d made a good decision.


“Shipboard life agrees perfectly with me,” he said. “I love it. You work 12 hours a day on the ship, but what else are you going to do out there? And when you’re off, you’re home all the time or you can travel. We travel more now than when I worked on shore.”


He added, “It’s kind of interesting that the kids got into it before the old man. Usually it’s a family thing handed down, but it has worked out great. I’m extremely grateful both to the union and the school.”


‘A Lot of Fun’

For Zach, 29, the lousy economy led him out of the construction business and into the maritime industry. He and Grayson, both of whom recently upgraded to junior engineer, met a former SIU member and then a current official (Assistant Vice President Chet Wheeler) who explained the basics.


“It seemed like a great opportunity,” Zach stated. “So far, I love the union. It has really taken care of me and I love all the perks. It’s been a lot of fun.”


He said that despite some initial surprise at Jim’s entry into the unlicensed apprentice program, “for him it makes sense. He saw us enjoying it and he had been a union member before. He lives to travel. By no means did we talk him into it.”


Zach also said that even when they’re on the beach, shop talk “is pretty much the majority of our conversation. It’s nice to have somebody in the family you can vent to or ask questions.”


Finally, he recommended upgrading at the Paul Hall Center and its Harry Lundeberg School of Seamanship. He said that upgrading improves job security and earning power. (Jim was taking the basic auxiliary plant operations course at the same time the brothers were in the junior engineer class.)


‘Right Choice’

Grayson, 25, remembered doing asphalt work several years ago “and then the economy died, pretty much.”


After checking out the union’s website, he and his brother went to the SIU hall in Oakland, Calif., “and the rest is history. We were sold; we started getting our documents ready and headed out [to the school] five or six months later.”


Grayson said that while his lineage includes some affiliation with the sea – family members have served in the Navy – he and Zach and Jim are the first ones to make a living in the merchant sector.


“I like it,” he said. “Working on a ship is like helping make a small city run. It’s nice being part of something that big, and I enjoy building stuff. We’re all pretty mechanical. It seems like the right choice.”


Like Zach, Grayson said he was at least slightly surprised at Jim’s entry into the apprentice program – not because it wasn’t a good potential fit, but rather because it was such a big change.


“He was a butcher all my life, but I think he was tired of it,” Grayson said. “It wasn’t going anywhere and of course the money is a lot better out here…. It’s pretty cool. We’ve never lived anywhere near the coast, but we’re all sailing now.”



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