Editor’s note: Following are excerpts from President Michael Sacco’s opening remarks at the recent Maritime Trades Department, AFL-CIO executive board meeting. He delivered them Feb. 13 in Houston.
As you all know, the Farm Bill finally passed Congress last week. For us, one of the most important components of that bill was Food for Peace, which has been under attack in recent years.
This has been a big topic at all of our recent meetings and I’m sure many of you remember a number of our guest speakers back in September talking about it.
I think the bottom line is that even though we didn’t get everything we wanted, we did win the most important parts of the battle. We prevented the administration from turning the program into a cash giveaway and we kept it in the Department of Agriculture.
On the down side, Congress allowed for more purchasing of food overseas, making permanent what had been a pilot program. It doesn’t necessarily take money from the Food for Peace program, but the funding will have to come from somewhere. Our job is to make sure it doesn’t come from anyplace that eliminates American maritime jobs.
One other quick note on Food for Peace. The people who want to change the program by making it strictly cash payments keep repeating the same lies over and over again. They keep saying our ships are too slow and our deliveries take so much time, people are dying while they wait for the food cargoes.
The people in this room know that that’s simply not true, but I also think we need to start promoting our own argument that if people are suffering and dying already, if you turn this into a cash program, twice as many people will be at risk.
We’ve been saying it for the last two years, and our good friend Congressman Garamendi said it at our convention: You don’t feed people with dollar bills, and piles of cash have a way of getting lost.
Anyway, the fight continues, but we’ve done some good work on Food for Peace and have kept the program largely intact.
A few other recent headlines:
First, as I’m sure you all know, the NLRB last week issued proposed revisions to the rules governing union representation elections. Yes, brothers and sisters, this is part of the labor-law reform we’ve been seeking for years. There’s a public comment period that ends in April, and this has the potential to be a significant improvement for working families.
Second, late last month the government issued its annual report on union membership. The bad news is we’re still at a historically low level. The good news is we made a modest gain in the year 2013, and we did it in the private sector. In fact, the state we are visiting – Texas – showed an increase in membership.
Any increase is better than no increase, and this is something we can build on.
Finally, I want to credit the Maritime Administration for hosting a three-day symposium in Washington last month aimed at developing a national maritime strategy. It’s a step in the right direction and it’s something our industry has needed for a long time. We look forward to working with MARAD to steer a true course to a stronger, vibrant and modern U.S.-flag fleet.