President's Column


January 2017


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Unions Are Needed Now More Than Ever


Recently, a member of Congress questioned why our nation needs unions. The implication was that unions have outlived their time, and could safely be done away with. But it is absolutely crucial to remember that unions not only fought for and secured labor rights as we know them, we’re also the only guarantee that those rights stay in place. And I’m not just talking about things like overtime pay, but also safe working conditions, the minimum wage, the five-day work week and outlawing child labor, among others.


Those safeguards are just a few of the many that unions achieved literally through blood, sweat and tears. And these benefits extend far beyond union membership, and help define the shape of American labor as a whole.


For anyone to think workers’ rights wouldn’t be decimated without unions would be an incredibly naïve outlook. As I’ve said in the past, while I’m proud of the SIU’s productive, respectful working relationships with our contracted companies, it is crazy to rely on benevolence for all the things that sustain a good, family-wage job.


Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t know any better. Again as I’ve said before, they believe that things like workplace safety regulations, benefits, good pay scales, retirement care, paid holidays and vacations and overtime pay either fell out of the sky or were always there. In the labor movement, we know they were secured through the money, marbles and chalk of generations past. We’ve got to do much better at spreading that message.


With that in mind and especially in these uncertain times, it’s so important to keep up your contributions to SPAD, and help your union continue to fight for the protections and rights that union families have depended on for generations.


As an example, we can look at the vast changes made to the game of football after the creation of the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA). Yes, there is a strong connection between trade unionism and the wildly popular NFL. Before football players were represented by a union, their working conditions were poor and unlikely to improve. Their pay was a tiny fraction of what it is now. But on Sunday, your favorite players will take the field protected by a collective bargaining agreement that helps protect their health, safety, and yes, those enviable paychecks. If they didn’t enjoy the power of collective bargaining, the owners would call all the shots and you can be sure the players’ share of that big financial pie would shrink immediately.


No matter what team you’re rooting for, remember that every player out there is a union brother, and a living testament to what unions can do for you.


Year in Review


I always enjoy taking a step back and examining the past year, and I must say, 2016 was certainly busy. When it was all said and done, 18 new, SIU-contracted vessels were either built or reflagged American last year, and all of them meant new jobs for Seafarers – including our SIU Government Services Division mariners. In fact, at least one new vessel started flying the Stars and Stripes or was announced every month! The influx of new tonnage just goes to show how the industry is surviving and has a chance to truly be revitalized.


Our union also is moving forward, including through a newly built hall in Houston and a newly renovated hall in Puerto Rico. Both buildings are a big improvement for mariners sailing out of those ports, and the Houston hall is the first ground-up construction since 1981.


In addition, major upgrades to the union-affiliated Paul Hall Center were completed last year, as well as the acquisition of a new training vessel, the Freedom Star. All of these changes were done to ensure mariners receive top-level training and education.


Throughout 2016, SIU mariners were making us proud, participating in several life-saving rescues, supporting our military in various capacities, and helping to ratify contracts that safeguard future jobs. Though we had our share of trying times, our union has entered 2017 ready to face whatever challenges the future holds.


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