Following productive and respectful negotiations between the union and the company, SIU members employed by E.N. Bisso & Son Inc. unanimously approved a new three-year contract that boosts wages, maintains benefits and features other gains.
The SIU represents approximately 70 deckhands, engineers and wheelmen working at New Orleans-based Bisso. Negotiations took place Nov. 5-6 in Kenner, La.; ratification followed Nov. 6-8 aboard the boats. (Bisso has 15 tugs.)
Representing the SIU during the bargaining sessions were Delegates Robert Jordan, Merrell St. Romain and Jake Valois and Port Agent Chris Westbrook.
“The delegates did a tremendous job,” said Westbrook. “Two of them were new, but they did outstanding work. The committee was able to get together, cooperate and understand what needed to be done. The company did a good job, too, hearing us out. We didn’t agree on every issue but we came out with a good package that gives our guys upward mobility and allows the company to operate efficiently.”
He pointed out the union made no concessions and added, “The guys were all on board, and I think the vote shows there’s a lot of solidarity there.”
For St. Romain, serving on the bargaining committee for the first time proved eye-opening and worthwhile.
“It was something I’ve never experienced, but I had a good time,” St. Romain said. “We never argued – it was very professional. And I’ve got to say, Chris is a pro. He showed me a lot…. All three delegates spoke up. The company respected us and we respected them.”
Specifically focusing on the contract, St. Romain stated, “It was very successful. Getting a pay raise, getting a little bonus for people who’ve been here (at least) 10 years, keeping all our insurance – it’s very nice. The rest of the guys in the union were very supportive.”
The contract, which took effect Dec. 1, implements a licensed deckhand/wheelman program, raises the daily pay for wheelmen and features annual wage increases for engineers and deckhands.
Under terms of the new agreement, members retain “Core Plus” medical coverage through the Seafarers Health and Benefits Plan – the top level available. Also, some of the more-tenured employees are eligible for increased vacation pay, while some positive work rules and manning-scale clarifications were added.