April 30, 2020
The SIU, considering the overall health and safety of our crews, last month proposed a 30-day moratorium on crew changes, along with ship restriction. These were mutually agreed to by the union and the companies of the American Maritime Association (AMA), which are signatory to the SIU standard freightship and tanker agreements.
None of us possesses a lot of experience dealing with pandemics like this one. In mid-March, we had no idea how long it would last, how bad it would get and what types of protocols would need to be implemented as the situation progressed. Our foremost concern and priority was keeping our members healthy and safe while also enabling the ships to move. We wanted to protect our members’ jobs and their ability to safely provide for their families. We also wanted to be able to “deliver the goods” as we’ve done for decades and decades, to support our nation’s national security and critical infrastructure. However, we have been very clear from day one that our members were to be treated no differently than any of the officers aboard the vessels.
As previously indicated, we now are proceeding with the phase-in of larger-scale crew changes, effective immediately. As always, our primary concern remains the health and safety of our members and their families, with the additional goal of getting as many people to work as soon as possible under the circumstances. Here’s the latest, including some additional updates:
Procedures for Crew Reliefs
These procedures have been mutually agreed to by the union and the companies of the AMA. Other SIU-contracted companies also are using similar if not identical protocols.
- When possible, jobs are being called 14 days in advance, to help enhance individual safety. Mariners who secure the jobs should remain at home for 14 days before attempting to return to work.
- Depending on port or travel restrictions and travel availability, no more than one-third of a department is being changed out at one time.
- Mariners will complete a company-specific COVID-19 questionnaire. If the mariner meets the requirements to continue, the company will send a list of pre-joining procedures that must be followed during a self-quarantine/social distance phase and during travel.
- Upon arrival at the vessel, mariners will again complete a COVID-19 questionnaire and most likely receive a temperature check.
- Once on board, mariners will follow the ship’s coronavirus procedures. These will include maximum social distancing for an initial 10-day period, use of PPE, and adherence to best practices as identified by the CDC.
- Extra precautions are being taken in the steward department, but please note that there is no indication anywhere in the world that the virus is spread via food. That said, all galleys will undergo enhanced cleaning. Steward department personnel will wear masks and gloves (provided by the companies) while on the job. Non-disposable fabric masks, galley clothing and aprons will be machine-washed regularly and kept clean between shifts. All dishes and cutlery will be washed in the dishwashers with the temperature at its highest setting. Unless approved by the vessel master, no one other than galley staff will be permitted in the galley or food-preparation area. Anyone not available to eat during regular dining hours should plan in advance for meals to be prepared and left for them. If possible, galleys will be locked when not in use.
- We are aggressively working with Cigna and other entities to try to secure FDA-approved virus tests as they become readily available. We will quickly implement a testing protocol once they’re available. Meanwhile, although there won’t necessarily be exact uniformity among every SIU-contracted company when it comes to vetting incoming mariners for COVID-19, we are working with them to help ensure general consistency and efficiency.
- As of May 1, the SIU is no longer waiving the restriction-to-ship section of our collective bargaining agreement. In light of the pandemic, however, members are urged to carefully consider whether a trip ashore truly is necessary. The safe move is to remain on board the ships. The companies will try to accommodate any shoreside needs that you may have, such as medications. In addition, they will fully stock the slop chest. Any crew member who goes ashore will be treated as a “new arrival” upon returning to the vessel. If you do go ashore, use PPE and exercise extreme caution.
For commercial vessels calling on U.S. ports, restriction-to-ship is not payable if the restriction has been ordered by any federal or local authority. The same is true in foreign ports if the restriction is ordered by the host nation. Restriction-to-ship also is not payable according to our Military Sealift Command operating contracts.
Hiring Halls & HQ
We have been working to prep the halls for reopening whenever it is safe to do so. This includes some physical modifications within the facilities and undoubtedly will involve social distancing when the halls are open.
For those who missed the announcement, the May membership meetings have been cancelled.
The halls themselves are still staffed – members can reach them by phone, email and fax. All of the halls are merely closed to walk-ins.
Similarly, union headquarters is operating with a skeleton crew and is closed to walk-ins. The membership assistance department is open, as are the Seafarers Plans offices and the communications office. However, please be patient if you’re waiting for a phone call or email to be returned.
Paul Hall Center/Lundeberg School/Piney Point
The school is still conducting training for apprentices, but all upgrading courses have concluded. No decisions have been made when classes will resume. Prospective students are asked to hold off on applying for courses until further notice.
Thank you for your patience and professionalism as we continue navigating the uncharted waters of the COVID-19 pandemic. As you know, the situation – whether aboard ship, at the halls, at the school or at headquarters – is fluid. We’ll adjust as needed to protect the membership and staff while complying with local, state and federal guidelines.
Without exception, every decision made by the union has been done with the safety of our members first and foremost. That will always be the case.