An arbitrator on July 30 ruled in favor of the American Maritime Association’s (AMA) insistence that they can require all mariners sailing aboard the companies’ respective vessels be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
The SIU challenged the AMA’s mandate by demanding expedited arbitration, primarily because they unilaterally imposed it rather than bargain over its effects with the union.
AMA companies are signatory to the union’s standard freightship and tanker agreements. Those contracts specify that with these kinds of grievances, “the matter shall be referred to an impartial arbitrator whose decision shall be final and binding,” which means the union cannot appeal the decision.
While we are disappointed in the arbitrator’s ruling, we aren’t necessarily surprised. Earlier in the week, the U.S. Department of Justice released an “opinion letter” saying there’s nothing in federal law that prevents private-sector employers from requiring vaccines. That is consistent with other court decisions and developments across the country, both in the public and private sectors.
We will post and publish details as soon as possible about how the AMA vaccine mandate will be implemented. Those particulars are still being worked out.
Among other points, the arbitrator said he based his decision on the unique nature of the maritime industry, including the fact that crews live together on the vessels. He cited the danger of the Delta variant, plus other recent legal rulings and opinions that support vaccination mandates. He emphasized that his decision aims to maximize safety, and also noted the complications and costs of having vessels quarantine when positive cases occur aboard ship. He acknowledged the sacrifices of mariners and their important roles as part of the essential workforce.
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