Unions, Operators, School Team Up for Wellness Project


September 2013


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The SIU is a major player as labor and management throughout the maritime industry come together to devise comprehensive, helpful health and wellness guidance for mariners. The goal, officials said, is to foster a health-centered culture that results in healthier mariners and more affordable medical policies – without placing any burdens on individual seafarers.


The first step in that plan took place Aug. 13 with a wide-ranging meeting at the union-affiliated Paul Hall Center for Maritime Training and Education (PHC) in Piney Point, Md. During the gathering, officials from Crowley Maritime Corp., Alaska Tanker Company (ATC) and the Seafarers- affiliated American Maritime Officers (AMO) outlined the tenants of their individual wellness policies, while officials with the PHC and SIU discussed implementing some of those ideas into the PHC’s curriculum and generally the maritime culture. A representative from Maersk Line, Limited also contributed valuable ideas to the discussion.


“This is the first coordinated effort to bring everything together,” said John Mason, CEO of American Service Technology Inc. “We’re taking everything the school has been doing and everyone else has been doing and gathering ideas together.”


SIU Secretary-Treasurer David Heindel said the idea for the meeting and new policy came about following discussions with Crowley regarding the success of its health and wellness program. While the SIU, PHC and many other companies already have wellness policies and training in place, Heindel said the goal of the new approach is to form a unified policy that stimulates a cultural shift toward health-conscious lifestyles across the industry.


“We thought we’d broaden the scope and bring in other people from within industry and see what they are doing. We thought we could bring in the SIU and make it a cultural change,” Heindel said. “That’s why we’re all here. Obviously, the SIU is interested in making sure our people are healthy.”


When it comes to promoting a sense of wellness and a culture that values healthy eating and proper exercise and activity, officials agreed that the key lies in education and personal drive. SIU Executive-Vice President Augie Tellez said the PHC could play a significant role in driving those values.


“Like anything else, it comes down to individual motivation, which is what this place has to instill,” he said. “It comes down to the culture of the crews you have on that ship. It has always been that way.”


Discussing how to change that culture for the better, the officials at the meeting said the galley would be a good place to start.


“For our members, there are both short-term and long-term benefits with the wellness project,” said SIU Vice President Contracts George Tricker. “As members adopt healthier lifestyles, they’ll be able to enjoy not only a healthier environment during their working years but also hopefully in a long and gratifying retirement. The bottom line is this program is being developed for the members.”


AMO Plans Executive Director Steve Nickerson said his organization has addressed that issue with reduced serving sizes, smaller serving plates, nutritional counseling and educational grocery shopping.


“It’s a matter of education,” Nickerson said. “It’s a matter of people starting to understand.”


PHC Executive Chef John Hetmanski said SIU stewards and chefs are currently taught with such standards in mind, but added additional steps could be taken to bolster a culture of health and wellness.


“A healthier person is a safer, more productive, better-prepared employee for all of us,” Hetmanski said. “We certainly have the ability to change our course work again and implement more of this philosophy and way of thinking into all of the steward department courses. As we make progress in our efforts in this conference, I want to assure everyone here that our curriculum is going very strong in that direction.”


Other ideas included creating programs designed to educate mariners about reducing stress, sleeping better and making healthy choices. There was also talk of implementing onboard exercise and workout programs.


“We’ve had a great day and exchanged a lot of information,” said SIU Plans Administrator Maggie Bowen as the meeting came to an end. “Now we need to figure out how we get it all together and make it work.”


The officials then agreed to assemble a mission statement and set of objectives to be discussed at future meetings. There was also talk of putting the PHC advisory board’s medical subcommittee back together to generate further ideas and methods of implementation.


“Let’s complement what you guys have done and basically figure out what would work for us. Let’s take a step back and put together a white paper of everything we talked about today,” Heindel said. “Hopefully we can take this meeting as an inaugural meeting for something that will be put forward for everybody.”




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Reps Offer Health Program Insights


Representatives from shipping companies and a maritime union are offering ideas from their health and wellness programs as the SIU and maritime industry in general work to establish industry-wide guidelines to help keep mariners healthy.


In presentations to SIU officials and others at the union-affiliated Paul Hall Center for Maritime Training and Education in Piney Point, Md., representatives from Crowley Maritime Corp., Alaska Tanker Company (ATC) and the American Maritime Officers (AMO) discussed the aspects of their respective wellness programs and answered questions about their benefits and implementation. The purpose of the meeting was to gather ideas for an industry-wide approach to mariner health and wellness that could lead to a new health-centered maritime culture.


The presentations offered a glimpse of what those future industry- wide health and wellness guidelines may look like. The following are summaries of the presentations made by Crowley, ATC and AMO during the Aug. 13 meeting.


Crowley Maritime Corporation

Known as Live Well, Crowley’s program was designed to “promote the health and wellness of our people by creating a work environment that nurtures all dimensions of wellness while heightening engagement, reinforcing healthy behaviors, increasing performance and recognizing health care expenditures,” said Margaret Reasoner, Crowley’s managing director of marine personnel.


Reasoner said Crowley has started building a health culture within the company by beginning every meeting with “wellness moments” that discuss health-related issues, providing consistent electronic and hard-copy health-related communications and creating an incentive program. That program includes things like health insurance discounts and gift cards, among other incentives.


Crowley has also been considering adding new aspects to the program.


“We’re striving to really help individuals manage their health,” Reasoner said. “What we experience at Crowley is not unique to all mariners.”


Alaska Tanker Company

According to its program description, ATC’s wellness is “not necessarily about weight loss or running a marathon, it is about implementing healthier habits and embracing a lifestyle of wellness that we can pass down through generations.”


Like Crowley, much of ATC’s program focuses on education and incentives. Speaking for ATC, Registered Nurse Susanna Reiner said the company tries to find out what its employees are interested in and then brings in experts from those fields to lead related discussions. They talk about subjects such as sleeping better, food, exercise and reducing stress.


“These are very simple concepts,” Reiner said. “You get people to catch on and then they spread the story. They tell their stories and then other people want to follow, too.”


ATC Labor Relations Director Bill Cole said they’ve also addressed food and portion sizes and had discussions with stewards. “We’re talking about giving them more guidance,” Cole said. “We found there was a lot you could do, particularly on the education side.”


American Maritime Officers

AMO’s wellness program is multi-faceted. It offers a nutrition center where individual menus can be created for specific dietary needs, nutritional counseling, educated grocery shopping training and a two-week intensive program known as Fit for Duty.


Under the Fit for Duty program, employees interact with a health and wellness coach who works with them on behavior modification, motivation and expectations; a nurse advocate who works with them on medical diagnosis, lab work and setting health goals; a chef who prepares meals and introduces healthy meals; and guest speakers who provide additional support and guidance.


Those participating in the AMO’s wellness program also fall under a case management umbrella that helps create positive outcomes. Health personnel stay in touch with wellness program participants to ensure they are still able to receive the guidance and support they need to maintain a healthy lifestyle.


“We’ll work with anybody who wants to work on it. We’ll work on a home program as well as a vessel program,” said AMO Plans Executive Director Steve Nickerson. “We try to establish a game plan not only for the vessel, but for at home as well.”


Ed Hanley, vice president of labor relations at Maersk Line, Limited, added that investing resources into a wellness program should pay healthful dividends for mariners, their families and their employers in the long run.