SIU's Year in Review

 

January 2018

 

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Had Mother Nature kept her temper in check, 2017 might be remembered as an especially productive and uplifting year for the SIU.

 

But, she did no such thing. Starting with Hurricane Harvey in late August and continuing through Hurricane Irma and then Hurricane Maria in mid-September, parts of the U.S. and its territories endured a relentless pounding. The SIU immediately stepped up with relief efforts and hasn’t stopped, but, particularly in Texas, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, recovery may take years.

 

Nevertheless, there were other notable stories for the union in 2017, including the approval of new contracts, securing new tonnage and new jobs, conducting conventions, celebrating a milestone in Piney Point, Maryland, and conducting its own elections.

 

The following is a look back at some of the most significant developments from the prior year.

 

Hurricanes Strike

Because of media coverage and an ongoing political firestorm concerning recovery operations involving Puerto Rico, it may be easy for people outside the other affected areas to overlook the severity of the two hurricanes that immediately preceded Maria. But Harvey and Irma, respectively, also did plenty of damage.

 

Harvey is estimated to have caused nearly $200 billion in destruction, including in parts of Texas and Louisiana. It made landfall in the Lone Star State as a Category 4 storm in late August and would strike again two different times within the same week, resulting in 82 deaths.

 

Irma wasn’t far behind, hitting Florida on Sept. 10, also as a Category 4 hurricane. It is estimated to have caused almost $67 billion in damage and more than 100 fatalities (roughly a third of them in the U.S.). Irma was still a Category 5 storm when it hit the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) en route to the mainland.

 

Maria wasn’t far behind, doing more damage in the USVI (home to thousands of members of the SIU-affiliated United Industrial Workers) before striking Puerto Rico Sept. 20 as a Category 5 hurricane. As one reporter put it, “From a meteorological standpoint, Maria was nearly a worst-case scenario for the territory: The center of a huge, nearly Category 5 hurricane made a direct hit on Puerto Rico, lashing the island with wind and rain for longer than 30 hours.” There has been inconsistent reporting about the number of Mariarelated fatalities, but at least 66 deaths appear to have been directly related to the storm. The financial toll could reach $95 billion, according to several published reports.

 

As with other natural disasters, the aftermath of the hurricanes at times showcased the best of human nature. For the SIU, assistance in the wide-ranging recovery has taken many forms, including starting a disaster aid fund, delivering relief cargoes to Puerto Rico and the USVI, working with the national AFLCIO and state labor federations to secure monetary and other support, and helping mobilize a Seafarers-crewed Navy hospital ship that was deployed to Puerto Rico. The union also partnered with the American Federation of Teachers, Seafarers-contracted Tote Maritime and several other organizations for Operation Agua, a massive undertaking that is delivering portable water purifiers throughout Puerto Rico (see page 8).

 

No mention of Maria and Puerto Rico would be complete without at least touching on a resulting political fight concerning the Jones Act, America’s freight cabotage law. Even while Jones Act carriers – most of them utilizing SIU crews – were delivering relief supplies faster than the ports could distribute them, enemies of American-flag shipping publicized lies about the law and its effect on the territory. Legislation was introduced to weaken or eliminate the century-old statute, which is vital to national, economic and homeland security.

 

The domestic maritime industry successfully fought back, both in Congress, in the media and behind the scenes. As SIU President Michael Sacco noted, “The bottom line is the Jones Act is good for our country – most definitely including Puerto Rico. It never hampered relief efforts, and in fact, Jones Act ships led those efforts from the very beginning, not only in Puerto Rico but also in the U.S. Virgin Islands.”

 

Big Year for Contracts

There was no shortage of news concerning SIU collective bargaining agreements as well as operating contracts awarded by the Defense Department.

 

During the summer, Seafarers overwhelmingly approved new standard freightship and tanker agreements spanning five years. The pacts call for annual wage increases while maintaining benefits.

 

Favorable contracts also were ratified at E.N. Bisso & Son; Crowley Liner Services; E-Ships, Inc.; Keystone Shipping; Liberty Maritime; Matson Navigation; Maersk Line, Limited; Marine Personnel and Provisioning; and Transoceanic Cable.

 

Additionally, the SIU retained jobs when an operating agreement was awarded for seven oceanographic surveillance ships, and gained jobs through two separate awards covering a total of 11 LMSRs.

 

New Tonnage and Old Friends

A number of SIU-contracted vessels were christened and/or delivered in 2017. They included the roll-on/roll-off ships Liberty, Liberty Passion, and Liberty Peace; the Jones Act tankers Palmetto State, American Freedom, American Pride and American Liberty; the ConRo El Coqui; the Government Services Division ships USNS Yuma and USNS Hershel “Woody” Williams; and the Great Lakes Towing tugboat Cleveland. Also, construction began on two ConRos for Matson, while Crowley announced plans to acquire three tankers from SeaRiver Maritime.

 

On the political front, maritime labor applauded the respective confirmations of Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao in late January and Rear Adm. (Ret.) Mark Buzby as head of the Maritime Administration in late summer. Both are familiar allies for the U.S. Merchant Marine – Chao through prior work as Secretary of Labor and at the Maritime Administration and Federal Maritime Commission, Buzby as former commanding officer of the U.S. Military Sealift Command (2009-13).

 

School News, Conventions

The SIU-affiliated Paul Hall Center for Maritime Training and Education (PHC) celebrated its 50th year through a special edition of the Seafarers LOG, a video, and a luncheon that featured remarks by Secretary Chao, Crowley Maritime President and CEO Tom Crowley Jr., and President Sacco, who worked at the Piney Point, Maryland, facility in its earliest days. The school also received proclamations from U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland), whose district includes Piney Point; and from Maryland Governor Larry Hogan.

 

The luncheon happened during the Seafarers International Union of North America convention, hosted by the school. Just a week earlier, the PHC also was the setting for the United Industrial Workers convention.

 

Earlier in the year, the school teamed up with the College of Southern Maryland to offer an Associate of Applied Science Degree program in Maritime Operations Technology.

 

The Piney Point union hall moved into new space in the Crowley Building.

 

The school’s advisory board convened in May, one day after the Seafarers Waterfront Classic marked its fifth year. The latter event is a partnership with the American Military Veterans Foundation, formerly named Wounded Warrior Anglers of America.

 

Other News

Not all of the union’s political activities were related to the Jones Act. The SIU also testified in Congress in support of cargo preference programs, and helped secure ongoing support for the U.S. Maritime Security Program.

 

Early in the year, the union announced results of rank-and-file voting (and tallying) for national officers of the Seafarers International Union’s Atlantic, Gulf, Lakes and Inland Waters. The tallying committee certified the reelections of Michael Sacco as president of the SIU; Augie Tellez as the union’s executive vice president; David Heindel as secretarytreasurer; and George Tricker as vice president of contracts and contract enforcement, among other results.

 

Sacco was a featured speaker at a March 29 event in the nation’s capital both honoring Chao and celebrating the DOT’s 50th anniversary. Other speakers included U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pennsylvania), former Sen./DOT Secretary Elizabeth Dole, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), Sen. John Thune (R-South Dakota) and Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

 

The Seafarers Health and Benefits Plan (SHBP) awarded $120,000 in scholarships to six dependents of Seafarers.

 

The SHBP also conducted benefits conferences in Piney Point; Houston; Jacksonville, Florida; Jersey City, New Jersey; and Norfolk, Virginia. (Additional conferences were scheduled for mid-December in Tacoma, Washington and in Wilmington and Oakland, California.)

 

On Oct. 1, the U.S. Coast Guard issued its final Report of Investigation into the loss of the El Faro. The commandant was expected to publish a decision outlining the final agency actions taken in response to the recommendations around mid-December.

 

SIU-crewed ships participated in numerous international and domestic military support exercises throughout the year.

 

The Maritime Trades Department conducted its quadrennial convention in St. Louis in October; the AFL-CIO held its convention a week later in the same city. Sacco was reelected both as president of the MTD and as a vice president of the AFL-CIO executive council, where he’s the longest-serving member.

 

The union mourned the losses of many brothers and sisters and other friends throughout the year, including longtime shore gang Bosun Vern Poulsen; Hanafi Rustandi, president of the Indonesian mariner union Kesatuan Pelaut Indonesia; retired SIU Port Agent Bobby Selzer; and Paul F. Richardson, retired president and one of the founders of Sea-Land Service.

 

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