New Contracts, SIU Fleet Additions Highlight 2012

 

January 2013

 

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The SIU made substantial gains in 2012, including securing dozens of new contracts and crewing up new tonnage throughout the fleet.

 

The year’s headlines also included major progress on the waterfront restoration project at the union-affiliated Paul Hall Center for Maritime Training and Education; several rescues at sea; ongoing political activities; a successful convention for the Seafarers International Union of North America, and more.

 

The following is a look back at some of the key stories of 2012.

 

Contracts

Considering the slowly recovering but still-ailing economy, the new collective bargaining agreements approved by Seafarers throughout 2012 called to mind an old saying: If it’s true, it isn’t bragging.

 

Defying nationwide trends in other industries and organizations, the SIU secured one agreement after another that featured wage increases while maintaining benefits. Practically without exception, those contracts were ratified by overwhelming majorities.

 

Garnering well-deserved attention, the new standard freightship and tanker contracts were ratified around midyear. Those five-year pacts featured annual wage hikes while maintaining medical and pension benefits and securing other gains. Many other SIU contracts were patterned after the standard agreements.

 

Among others, new, multi-year agreements were approved at Great Lakes Dredge and Dock, Erie Sand and Gravel, Material Services Corporation, Harley Marine, Crowley Towing and Transportation, Crowley at Petty’s Island, and Overseas Shipholding Group (inland). That’s just a representative sample, however; in total, more than 80 new collective bargaining agreements were wrapped up in 2012.

 

New Tonnage

A proper review of these gains must begin in the last days of 2011, when the heavy-lift ship Maersk Illinois reflagged under the Stars and Stripes. Months later, sister ship Maersk Texas joined the SIU-crewed fleet.

 

Also reflagging U.S. were the cargo ships MV Carat, Ocean Giant and BBC Seattle.

 

In the Great Lakes Division, members welcomed the new ATB Ken Boothe Sr. and the tug Handy-Three.

 

SIU Government Services Division members saw the additions of the high-tech NOAA vessel Ferdinand Hassler, the T-AKE ship USNS Cesar Chavez and the flagship of the joint high-speed vessel (JHSV) fleet, the USNS Spearhead.

 

Seafarers also started sailing aboard the new Jones Act tanker American Phoenix, the pumping station USNS Wheeler (and its support vessel).

 

Crowley continued its fleet expansion with the announced purchase of the tankers Pennsylvania and Florida and the christenings of the ATB Legend and the ocean-class tugboats Ocean Wave and Ocean Wind.

 

And just last month, TOTE announced plans to build at least two, and maybe as many as five LNG-powered containerships, while International Shipholding Corporation acquired several Jones Act vessels that signal new jobs for SIU members.

 

Rescues, Paul Hall Center

At times, it may have seemed as if SIU-crewed ships were competing to see who could pull off the most rescues. The Horizon Reliance and the Green Cove each handled two rescues at sea, saving lives along the way.

 

Seafarers aboard the USS Ponce and on a NY Waterway ferry also upheld the finest traditions of the Brotherhood of the Sea by performing other rescues.

 

Most of the SIU members aboard the aforementioned ships have completed safety training at the Paul Hall Center, located in Piney Point, Md. The school also enjoyed its share of noteworthy developments, led by the near-completion of the multi-million-dollar waterfront restoration project. Ground also was broken on campus for a new claims department building.

 

The school offered company-specific training for numerous Seafarers-contracted businesses including Crowley, Alaska Tanker Company, Maersk Line, Limited and others, while also running its regular assortment of classes for upgraders and apprentices. School and union leaders continued working with the Coast Guard to modify applicable courses so they’ll comply with the Manila Amendments to the STCW Convention.

 

The U.S. Department of Labor recognized the school’s entry-training program as one of the nation’s best. The center added high-tech training tools including a new navigation software tool.

 

Other Gains and a Setback

The SIU, other maritime unions and the Military Sealift Command culminated years of work on revisions to the Civilian Marine Personnel Instruction 610, covering hours of work and premium pay. Union representatives travelled across the globe to help introduce the updated agreement, which is considered a victory for both sides and a credit to maritime labor.

 

The SIUNA conducted its quinquennial convention in Piney Point. Delegates unanimously re-elected President Michael Sacco and other officials who helped map out pro-maritime, pro-worker strategies.

 

The Seafarers Health and Benefits Plan awarded eight scholarships – three to Seafarers, five to SIU dependents – worth a total of $132,000.

 

Even as the union continued domestic and international anti-piracy efforts, SIU-crewed ships including the Ocean Atlas, USNS Rappahannock and Maersk Texas successfully turned back attempted pirate attacks.

 

The Ocean Atlas also was in the news for an unwarranted detention in Venezuela – a situation brought to a safe and successful conclusion thanks to cooperative efforts by the SIU, the American Maritime Officers and many others.

 

The International Labor Organization ratified the Maritime Labor Convention, 2006 – a move long-advocated by the SIU.

 

Both the union and the Seafarers Health and Benefits Plan moved ahead with expansion of the network of SHBP-contracted clinics.

 

SIU members stepped up right away to help bring relief to victims of Hurricane Sandy in the northeast.

 

Union support drove election victories for the Obama-Biden ticket and for many more pro worker candidates in the United States Congress as well as in state and local elections. Organized labor also succeeded in defeating a number of state-level anti-worker ballot initiatives.

 

Collectively, the industry was blindsided by last-minute, secretive cuts to cargo preference that threaten to wipe out American maritime jobs. Efforts to reverse those cuts are ongoing.

 

So-called right-to-work laws also advanced in Indiana and Michigan, signaling bad news for all workers. Contrary to what their proponents say, right-to-work laws consistently lead to lower wages, fewer benefits, and less-safe workplaces. Organized labor will continue its fight to turn back these harmful laws.

 

Crossed the Bar

Inevitably, the union bid farewell to too many friends and associates in 2012. Those crossing the final bar included (chronologically) former SIU and AMO official Gordon Spencer; Rene Lioeanjie, the last president of the National Maritime Union and a retired SIU vice president; Mark Ayers, president of the AFL-CIO Building and Construction Trades Department; shipping industry giant Maersk McKinney-Moller; longtime labor relations advocate Tom Murphy of Crowley; Chief Bosun Tommy Soresi, decades-long confidant of SIU officials; George Ripoll, retired SIU official; and Byron Kelley, retired SIU vice president.

 

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