Editor’s note for online version: This column by SIU President Michael Sacco was written in late October.
After Election Day
No matter who’s in the White House, our industry must – and will – continue working to preserve the laws and programs that keep the American flag flying on the high seas. This is a particularly important and challenging assignment as our nation edges closer to the infamous “fiscal cliff” that’s also known as sequestration.
Sequestration refers to an automatic cut of portions of federal agencies’ budgets, spurred by the Budget Control Act of 2011. No one knows if a compromise or some other solution will be reached before the end of the year, when the cuts are scheduled to kick in.
Sequestration is complicated. We have many people in the union and industry studying what could happen. But Seafarers should know that it threatens to weaken the Maritime Security Program and cargo preference laws, among many others. It also could reduce the number of ships in our Government Services Division. Collectively, that means our jobs are in the crosshairs.
There isn’t much comfort in knowing we’re not alone, but this truly is a massive, nationwide threat. A recent study prepared for Congress estimated that sequestration-related cuts might eliminate 2.1 million American jobs in the next fiscal year.
Many of those jobs are not in the government. Much in the same way that, for instance, expenditures related to the Jones Act help create and maintain hundreds of thousands of related jobs, federal agency spending sustains work in three different ways. As the author of the congressional report put it, direct jobs result from paying the salaries of government employees (including CIVMARS) and contracting with various companies to produce goods. When those contractors buy products from other firms, the spending helps support what are termed indirect jobs. And when employees in those first two categories spend parts of their paychecks out in the community – everything from routine trips to the grocery store to big-ticket items like buying a new car – additional jobs are supported by federal spending. Apparently, the term for that last category is “induced jobs,” but I don’t care what we call them as long as people are working.
There has been a general feeling in and around the nation’s capital that sequestration somehow won’t happen – that the job losses would be too severe, and would occur at an exceptionally unfortunate time. (We all know, of course, there is no “fortunate” time to lose a job.) President Obama in the final pre-election debate surprised many by saying the cuts wouldn’t take place, but it’s late October as of this writing, and no concrete solution is in sight. We have to be prepared.
Like I said, and as many Seafarers already know, it’s a complex situation. But the maritime industry is united in our ongoing fight to protect our jobs, and we will do whatever it takes to succeed. There’s still time to hit the brakes before going over that cliff. That is why it is very important to reach out to your U.S. senators and representatives to let them know you depend on your seafaring job to support your family and your community.
Although the wrangling over sequestration-related cuts is an extreme example, in a roundabout way it reinforces the importance of the outstanding work performed by SIU members aboard all types of vessels.
When we go to bat for our members and for the programs that help sustain the U.S. Merchant Marine, whether we’re in the halls of Congress or in a contract negotiation, what we promote first and foremost is you.
Safety is a huge part of that equation, and on that note, I believe our crews are trained as well as, or better than any others around the world. It shows in your consistently reliable, safe work, whether on a tanker, a RO/RO, a containership, or a passenger ferry. From tugboats along the Mississippi to self-unloaders on the Great Lakes, and from military prepositioning ships in Diego Garcia to the Pride of America cruise ship in Hawaii, SIU members deliver.
Your success helps us secure good contracts. Your safe work gives confidence to ship operators looking to grow their fleets. Your effectiveness reinforces the foundations of our arguments about the vital importance of job-sustaining programs like the MSP and cargo preference.
Keep up the good – and safe – work!