President's Column


January 2014


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Ready for More Success

We are hitting the ground running as the New Year begins, and we’re going to be out there swinging like never before. Because of ongoing attacks against the American maritime industry, SIU jobs are at stake, and it’s really not an overstatement to suggest that the future of the whole U.S. Merchant Marine is at stake, too.


The programs and laws that are most vital to our industry are in different states of health, in my opinion, although they all enjoy bipartisan support. For starters, despite the decades-long record of success with the Food for Peace program, there are members of Congress and people in the administration who want to reduce or eliminate the “food” part of the equation and replace it with direct cash payments. I’ve written at length about the absolute foolishness of such an approach and won’t go into detail again now, but this threat is ongoing – and so are our efforts to stop it. Our fight for this program is the right thing to do, not just for us but for overall U.S. national and economic security, and most definitely for the direct beneficiaries in foreign countries. This program has fed billions – that’s not a typo – since its founding. It works.


Also under attack is the Jones Act, which reserves domestic cargo for ships that are crewed, built, owned and flagged American. This too is an ongoing battle but I believe there is very strong support for the law on both sides of the aisle and in the administration. That doesn’t mean we’ll let our guard down.


There is tremendous support for the U.S. Maritime Security Program (MSP), which helps keep 60 militarily useful, privately owned vessels afloat, but with another round of sequestration looming, it could fall victim to cuts. We are working with supporters, including top military leaders, to make sure this program is fully funded under any circumstance. Our women and men in uniform need to know with 100 percent certainty they can count on American-crewed, American-flag ships to deliver the goods wherever and whenever needed. Chipping away at the MSP would leave our armed forces vulnerable. That can’t happen.


I’ve said before that I know our members have enough to worry about just keeping credentials in order and jumping through all the other hoops that are required before climbing the gangway. But I keep coming back to these political fights because you also need to know what’s at stake and why your union needs you to be involved.


Here’s an example. Near the end of last year, I heard an informal question-and-answer period with a pro-maritime U.S. senator who was asked about the best way to get others in Congress to support our position on Food for Peace. He didn’t hesitate in responding that congressmen and senators listen to their constituents first. That’s why we ask you to write or call.


Financial support is very important, too. That’s why we have SPAD, the union’s voluntary political action fund. Campaigns cost money, and believe me when I say candidates aren’t shy about asking us for contributions. It’s the system we’ve got, for better or worse, and by giving that support we get an opportunity to state our positions on issues like Food for Peace and the Jones Act and MSP.


Our approach works, and the evidence is that we have full employment even in tough times. Looking back on the last year, anyone who wanted a job could get one. That doesn’t happen by accident. It happens because we work hard and together as a team, both within our own union and with allies throughout maritime labor and the rest of the industry.


 We’ve got another big year ahead. And as always, we are up to the challenge.




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