Despite an economy in which cuts and concessions are the norm, the SIU has secured new standard freightship and tanker agreements that not only call for annual wage increases but also maintain members’ benefits – all while not losing a single shipboard job.
At press time, voting continued on the new five-year agreements; but, based on tallies from dozens of SIU-crewed ships and from special meetings and regular membership meetings conducted at the halls, the contracts obviously were headed for ratification. Nearly all of the votes were in favor of the agreements, which take effect July 1 of this year and run through June 2017.
The union’s bargaining team, led by SIU Executive Vice President Augie Tellez and Vice President Contracts George Tricker, negotiated contracts which, in addition to the previously stated achievements, also contain other improvements that are being well-received by the membership. Negotiations took place from February to early May, against a backdrop of the recession, refinery closures and political attacks on many of the programs that are vital to the U.S. Merchant Marine.
In his monthly report to Seafarers in May, Tricker listed some of the pacts’ highlights and also urged members “not to overlook the fact that Seafarers’ pension and medical benefits not only remain intact, but do so without any major give-backs by the union. At a time when many pension and medical plans are delivering less and costing more, the Seafarers Plans remain fully funded; and we have secured contracts that maintain benefits while also bringing above-average wage gains.”
He added that input from rank-and-file members “clearly is reflected in the new agreements.”
Reaction from Seafarers has been overwhelmingly positive.
Addressing Tellez, Tricker and other dais officials at the May membership meeting in Piney Point, Md., Recertified Bosun James Orlanda hit the deck and stated, “You guys did a great job. We all appreciate your hard work.”
In Norfolk, Va., AB Jonathan Davis said the new contracts “are a good thing for the members. I’m excited and I love the changes – I love them all. Being an AB, the part about not having to go to the flying bridge, I’m all for that.”
Recertified Steward Alonzo Belcher, also in Norfolk, said of the contracts, “Everything was very good. This is a slam dunk, and we really needed it. Considering how slow the economy is, to gain a contract like this is a beautiful thing. Everybody’s happy about it.”
Belcher added, “Everyone that had anything to do with this – (SIU President) Mike Sacco, Augie, George – they really came through for us.”
Recertified Bosun Randall Porter, speaking in Jacksonville, Fla., said, “I’m very pleased with it. The raises and some of the new rules – they did a very good job with this contract. I was surprised we got we got as much as we did. Keep up the good work and keep fighting for us, and we’ll keep doing it on this end.”
Oiler Rafael Alvarez-Chacon, a Jacksonville-area member who immigrated to the U.S., summed up his feelings when he stated, “I am very lucky to be part of this union. Sometimes I feel like people here do not realize how difficult things are, and how fortunate we are to be represented and helped within our work, by people who fight for our wages and benefits…. Our health benefits are great, too, not only (for) me, but also for my wife. It’s wonderful. The economy isn’t getting much better, but we are benefitting from our new contracts. I don’t think we could ask for anything more.”
For wages and all wage-related items, the contracts stipulate yearly increases. There are extra increases for Horizon Lines crews that ultimately will bring those vessels back in line with the standard contracts.
Members also are commending a planned transition to a new routine that will allow Seafarers to utilize medical facilities closer to home while also permitting them to take follow-up exams that are re-evaluations rather than additional comprehensive physicals. The target implementation date is October 1, 2012. Once this system has been enacted, the employers have committed to phase out the current sign-on physicals performed at Anderson Kelly.
In other noteworthy modifications, contract language has been changed to be more inclusive so that coffee time is allowed approximately midway through any four-hour overtime period. Also, all three shipboard departments now are eligible for an hour of overtime pay per week for maintaining their living quarters at recognized sanitary standards.
Seafarers in the deck department are taking note of the fact that under the new contracts, if cargo is not properly secured before going to sea and crew members are required to change lashings, they shall be paid at the rates specified in Article II, Section 21 (b), Penalty Rates. This is an addition to the contracts.
Also affecting deck-department mariners is new language specifying that when members must use Ospho or an equivalent, they will be paid at their respective penalty rates (only Ospho was covered in the old pacts). Seamen on wheel watch will no longer be required to work on the flying bridge. And, starting July 1, in order to be employed as an AB/Dayworker, an AB must possess a green-ticket endorsement.
Of note to mariners in the engine room, and as a direct result of membership input, the list of duties qualifying for penalty time has been expanded to include cleaning of scavenger boxes and working above the second tier of containers.
In the steward department, the union and the companies are adopting work rules recognized throughout the industry and reflective of three-person galleys. SIU recertified stewards played important roles in developing and modifying those rules.
Finally, the SIU and the companies have committed to a six-month review of how the Manila Amendments to the STCW convention affect overtime. Both parties share the goal of protecting mariners’ opportunities for overtime.