Recertified Stewards Reflect on SIU Career Advancement


May 2017


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They come from different backgrounds and various parts of the country, but for the union’s newest class of recertified stewards, one unmistakable commonality involves capitalizing on the career opportunities they’ve found via the SIU and its affiliated school in Maryland.


In keeping with tradition, those eight class members recently described their respective journeys and also offered insights to the apprentices in the audience during the April membership meeting in Piney Point, Maryland – home of the Paul Hall Center for Maritime Training and Education (PHC). Graduating from the three-week recertification program April 3 were Verleshia Robinson, Richard Jones, Sedell Mitchell Reynolds, Arturo Rodriguez, Gilbert Louis, Joseph Welle, Lionel Packnett and Ernest Carlos.


The course is considered the school’s top steward department curriculum. It covers a wide range of topics including computer technology, social responsibilities, leadership, Coast Guard updates, baking skills and other department-specific workshops on sanitation, nutrition and more. The course also offers insights to collective bargaining agreements, functions of the various departments within both the SIU and the Seafarers Plans, and the union’s affiliations with the Maritime Trades Department and its parent group, the AFL-CIO.


Following are highlights of the graduation speeches (in chronological order), supplemented in some cases by written comments submitted to the LOG.


Verleshia Robinson


A Seafarer since 2005 but a mariner for the last 28 years, Robinson said the union “has been important in my life because it has helped me improve my learning abilities, financially support and invest in my family members’ education at some of the most prestigious universities in the United States, and because of continuous employment.”


She thanked the union’s headquarters officials (“President Mike Sacco, you are the best”) along with PHC instructors and staff for their hard work and encouragement. Like her classmates, she also came away from the course with a renewed appreciation for why the SIU is politically active, and she pointed out the corresponding need for strong participation in SPAD, the union’s voluntary political action fund.


A frequent upgrader who ships from the Houston hall, she noted, “Each time I return to Piney Point, the school is continuously improving all throughout the campus. The school is always building on educational programs for all members in all departments to help ensure that we continue to be the best.”


Richard Jones


Jones is a 1999 graduate of the apprentice program who now sails from Jacksonville, Florida. He cited steady employment and schedule flexibility as two of the main reasons he’s glad to be an SIU member.


“I’d also like to thank the instructors and staff here at the school for all they do,” he continued. “And I thank the union leadership for all their hard work in protecting and securing our jobs. It’s a different ballgame behind the curtain at headquarters – our union leadership is always at work protecting our jobs. Now I can finally say I understand the importance of SPAD and why it’s so important for all of us to donate.”


Another frequent upgrader, Jones said, “I’ve always appreciate the opportunity to attend the school, and needless to say, it has always worked to my advantage. My overall experience at Piney Point was great, as usual.”


Sedell Mitchell Reynolds


Kicking off her speech on a spiritual note, Reynolds went on to say she joined the union in 2005 and currently ships from a few different halls. She thanked union and school officials as well as her family for being supportive.


“I’ve seen the world three times and made outstanding money through the years,” she continued. “I was (previously) a bartender for 27 years. I went from the tail and made the head – I stand before you today a recertified steward.”


Reynolds said she found the computer lab especially useful. She also thanked SIU officials for “fighting to protect our jobs.”


Arturo Rodriguez


“I started sailing in 1987, and the SIU changed my life,” stated Rodriguez, who ships from Houston. “It took a lot of work, courage, purpose and faith, but I have humbly reached the last stage of my professional career. I am so blessed to be in an institution like the SIU to give me purpose and so many opportunities.”


He thanked the instructors not only for their guidance but also for their friendship.


Rodriguez also said that he previously had upgraded nine different times at the PHC, “but this class was the best experience in all my time with the SIU, partly because I learned about every aspect of the union. This class definitely will help us when we return to the ships.”


Gilbert Louis


Louis described joining the union in 2001 as “one of the best decisions I ever made.” He said he has earned a good living, supported his family, travelled and “experienced things most people only dream about.”


Louis also initially drew good-natured laughs when he cited “time off” as one of the benefits of his career, but the chuckles quickly gave way to nods of agreement as he explained that extended breaks allow for “quality time” with family and friends.


Currently sailing from Norfolk, Virginia, Louis said he enjoyed learning about the union’s structure “and what it takes to keep the industry in the United States. It is vital to keep our coalitions and reach out to our congressional representatives to support us…. I thank our union officials. I saw firsthand their work on our behalf.”


Joseph Welle


For Welle, who graduated from the apprentice program in 1996, the union not only has offered a career path but also helped him recover from a tragedy, he said.


“I stand before you today to testify how great this union is to me and my family,” said Welle, who sails from Wilmington, California. “When I lost my son six years ago, this union helped me stand back on my feet to provide for my family, and I will be forever thankful.”


As for the recertification course, he thanked the school instructors and staff and added, “If there is one thing I’ve learned in this industry, it’s that in order to be relevant and competitive, you need to arm yourself with knowledge and skills that only school can provide.


“I would like to give my personal thanks to the union’s leadership for all their hard work on our behalf to promote the common interest of this union in protecting our industry and our jobs,” he continued. “In return, our officials need our help.”


Lionel Packnett


“I have been part of the SIU since 1989 and I’m still going strong,” Packnett said as he began his graduation speech. “The union has been an important part of my life because it has helped me to be a strong provider for my family and gave me a career opportunity.”


He thanked all the chefs and academic instructors at the school for their help both during the class and throughout his career.


Packnett concluded, “We need to continue to donate to SPAD and participate in union activities. I would like to thank the union leadership for their hard work protecting our jobs and keeping us working.”


Ernest Carlos


Wrapping up the graduations, Carlos, who sails from Jersey City, New Jersey, said he has “sailed to many ports all over the world” since joining the union in 2000.


“I’ve been to Beijing, China, where I visited the Great Wall,” he stated. “I also went to Japan, to Hiroshima, and the list goes on. There aren’t many places I haven’t been to, and that is just part of what this job has done for my life.”


Similarly, Carlos said his time in Piney Point “has been wonderful to say the least. The instructors here are the best.”


Recalling a challenging upbringing, he continued, “If it weren’t for this union, I don’t know where my life would be. I used to work for corporations like the American Bureau of Shipping, Samsung Electronics, and Avis just to name a few, but we had layoffs at all of those companies. I can tell you this: I have never worried about finding a job since I joined this union.”



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Stewards Share Words of Wisdom With Paul Hall Center Apprentices


Here’s a sampling of advice given to Paul Hall Center apprentices by the union’s newest class of recertified stewards. The comments were made during graduation speeches at the school.


“Study hard and learn from your instructors. Work together with your classmates. Have a positive attitude and stay focused. When you go to sea, work hard, be responsible, enjoy your work and do it with style and class. Never be afraid to ask questions, and always remember, where there is unity there is strength.”

Verleshia Robinson


“Do what you’re told and work diligently, always as a team.”

Richard Jones


“Study, work hard, keep your faith and hang onto the promise. At the end, it will be an exciting, rewarding experience. Donate to SPAD and don’t forget to upgrade.”

Sedell Mitchell Reynolds


“Work hard and put effort in all that you do. When I started, I spoke only a few words of English. I had to work hard in the kitchen and at my language, and now I am able to communicate easily with my crew. Anything can be accomplished through clear goals and hard work.”

Arturo Rodriguez


“Upgrade regularly and you will give yourself the best chance for advancement. Also remember you are ambassadors for our industry and our union.”

Gilbert Louis


“Study hard while you are here. Learn from your instructors and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Always have a positive attitude and a willing heart to learn. When you get out to sea, work hard, carry your load, enjoy every moment and most of all, MYUP – make your union proud!”

Joseph Welle


“When you go out to the ships, have some confidence in what you were trained to do by your instructors. Work hard and do your best. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.”

Lionel Packnett


“You have a great opportunity here at Piney Point. You are here to become a United States Merchant Mariner, and that is something to be proud of…. You will make good money, you will see the world and you will make new friends all over the world. This career will take you far.”

Ernest Carlos