President's Column


May 2016


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SIU President Michael Sacco points out how rank-and-file Seafarers recently spoke up concerning the vital need for grassroots political action


One of my favorite parts of this job is getting to spend time with Seafarers at our affiliated school in Piney Point, Maryland. If I’m not travelling, I make it a point to chat with rank-and-file members there practically every day. Even in an informal setting like the Paul Hall Center’s cafeteria or lobby, it’s good to have opportunities to discuss the latest news about our union and our industry. (Depending on the time of year, we’ve been known to talk about football every once in a while, too.)


In the same way I enjoy those interactions, it’s refreshing to hear the graduation speeches from our recertified stewards and bosuns whenever those classes roll around. It’s invigorating to feel their energy and to share in the insights of Seafarers who’ve seen the inner workings of the union, the school, and the Seafarers Plans. I’m also always interested to hear the advice they give to the trainees. Without exception, it’s valuable guidance.


What really jumped out at me during the April membership meeting, where six members graduated from the recertified steward class, was how adamant they all were about the need for our entire organization to be politically active. I know this is a subject I also bring up a lot, but that’s because our union and, really, our entire industry would be sunk without a strong presence on Capitol Hill.


As the stewards emphasized, a big key to our success is SPAD, the SIU’s voluntary political action fund. If you’re new to the SIU or otherwise somehow haven’t heard about SPAD, the best way I can describe it is, it’s a resource that provides us with a chance to carry our message to the politicians and elected officials who have opportunities to help strengthen the U.S.-flag fleet – and thus sustain and provide new jobs for Seafarers.


We have very strong participation in SPAD, and that’s not something I take for granted. But if you’re not already contributing, or you’re on board but may be able to give a little more, please consider doing so. And please take the time to read this month’s article about the newly recertified stewards – their quotes (on many subjects, not just politics) are perceptive and worth checking out.


As we first said long ago about SPAD, politics is pork chops. More recently, as one member put it, it takes a four-letter word (SPAD) to be heard. The bottom line is that under the current political system, we have to have a strong fund in order to even get in the door to promote things like the Jones Act, the Maritime Security Program and cargo preference laws. I’m not saying it’s all about money, but believe me when I say the requests for campaign contributions never stop. That’s why we won’t stop, either, and why it’s more important than ever to maintain and even build upon the strong rank-and-file participation we’ve enjoyed for many years.


National Maritime Day


This month, the SIU will join with other unions, U.S.-flag operators, military leaders, political allies and other supporters in observing National Maritime Day. First recognized by Congress in 1933, National Maritime Day (May 22) is a time to honor the service and sacrifice of our great country’s civilian mariners. It’s also a time when we take stock of the current state of the American-flag fleet and the U.S. crews who are available to mobilize the vessels in times of crisis.


I do not want to overshadow the acknowledgments of our World War II mariners or any other seamen who’ve climbed the gangway when our nation called, but I hope that this year’s National Maritime Day ceremony in Washington, D.C., in particular, addresses the reality that we have reached a critical point with our resources. The new commanding officer of the U.S. Transportation Command, General Darren McDew, has been very strong in bringing this concern to Congress’ attention and in saying we’ve got to do something about it – not tomorrow or next week or next month, but right now.


We in the SIU are taking that challenge very seriously and are working every day to ensure the ongoing viability of the U.S. Merchant Marine.



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