SIU President Michael Sacco applauds a recent House hearing that underscored the ongoing need for a strong U.S. Merchant Marine.
When more than a dozen members of the U.S. Congress show up for a subcommittee hearing that’s not tied to a particular bill, it means the
subject matter is very important.
That was the case in late July, when military and administration officials testified before the House Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces (part of the Armed Services Committee). The hearing drew a great turnout, and strong statements were made supporting the U.S. Merchant Marine by not only those testifying, but also subcommittee
members from both sides of the aisle.
Make no mistake: This wasn’t a pep rally. It was a hard, critical look at what our nation must do to maintain adequate sealift capability for times of war or other emergencies. In many ways, it was an overdue examination of what we’ve got and what we need, both in terms of manpower and American-flag tonnage.
I’m encouraged by the comments and testimony from the hearing, including detailed statements backing the U.S. Maritime Security Program (MSP) and cargo preference laws. Even more, it was heartening to hear our mariners – including the many thousands of
SIU members – described as a crucial national asset.
And perhaps best of all, I appreciated the on-the-record acknowledgement that our people don’t grow on trees and can’t just be plucked off the street when there’s a surge sealift requirement. Today’s maritime industry is far different than it was a century ago or when our union was founded, and we all know how different it has become since the Exxon
Valdez and the September 11 terrorist attacks. Those events aren’t the only reasons why the U.S. Merchant Marine is so heavily regulated, but they are major factors. As a result, it takes time and training to “make a mariner.” That’s one reason why it makes sense for our country to maintain programs and laws like the MSP, Food for Peace, the Export-
Import Bank and the Jones Act that help sustain the vital seagoing manpower pool.
Historically, the SIU and all of the U.S. Merchant Marine have delivered the goods, wherever and whenever needed. We’ve also demonstrated our flexibility and dependability when an out-of-the-ordinary assignment comes up, such as the high-profile deployment of the SIU-crewed Cape Ray.
As we’ve been reporting for months, the Cape Ray took on the complex, critical task of neutralizing and disposing of materials from Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile. And, as you likely know by now, the Keystone-operated vessel finished safely, efficiently and ahead of schedule. (As the kids might say nowadays, when the White House and the Pentagon both issue statements of thanks, it’s kind of a big deal.)
I’ve always been optimistic about our union and our industry, but also realistic. No one is going to give us anything – not at a bargaining table, not in a legislative fight at home, not in any of the international maritime and labor forums abroad. We have to fight for ourselves, carry our own message and work with our partners from all segments of the industry to help ensure a bright future.
You, the rank-and-file members, play an indispensable role in this effort by being professional and reliable on the job, by upgrading your skills, by helping with grassroots political action, and by supporting your officials. That last point is important and not taken for granted, while also truly not meant to sound self-serving. I know for sure that one of the reasons our union has been successful despite the many obstacles in the industry is because of continuity. It’s a similar concept as not being able to shove someone up a gangway and expect them to know how to be a mariner. The political and business sides of our industry take time to learn, and the relationships we’ve built across the board aren’t made overnight.
As we continue working together, I remain upbeat, determined and confident that we in the SIU will do our part to not only keep the Stars and Stripes flying on the high seas, but also to truly revitalize this invaluable industry.