Fred Redmond left no doubt about the AFL-CIO’s ongoing support for the U.S. Merchant Marine when he spoke to the Maritime Trades Department (MTD) Executive Board on Feb. 17 near Orlando, Florida.
Redmond, elected last year as the federation’s secretary-treasurer, stated, “A first-class maritime industry is so important to the economic health and security of this nation. And having highly skilled, U.S. citizen union mariners and shipyard workers is absolutely essential. The entire labor movement has stood with you to reject flag-of-convenience schemes and fight back attacks on cargo preference laws. And we will stand with you again to protect these labor standards, and for the enforcement of the Jones Act. That’s our promise.”
Redmond began by thanking SIU/MTD President Michael Sacco for his years of hard work and dedication to the federation and the labor movement as a whole.
“For those of you who don’t know, Mike is currently the longest-serving member of the AFL-CIO Executive Council. He’s the Dean of the Executive Council,” said Redmond, before congratulating Sacco on his retirement. He then saluted newly elected SIU President David Heindel on his position, before congratulating MTD Executive Secretary-Treasurer Daniel Duncan on his retirement.
“But most of all I want to thank all of you,” he said, addressing the labor leaders sitting in the room. “Because the work that you do every day is critically important in the lives of working people. To the labor movement, to our economy, and to the future of our democracy, and democracies everywhere. I want to thank you, on behalf of myself and (AFL-CIO) President (Liz) Shuler, for your dedication, because through every challenge thrown your way, you have been able to adapt and advocate for workers at a time when workers needed us the most.”
He spoke on the importance of grassroots politics and a continued need to organize and help working people across the country. He then mentioned the recently passed bipartisan infrastructure bill, saying it’s “a good example, and it’s already launching projects across the country, and creating jobs in new communities. This bill alone … will put half a trillion dollars of federal funding in clean energy over the next 10 years. This piece of legislation alone will create 1.5 million new jobs in infrastructure, manufacturing, construction and transportation. And it’s our goal that we want every one of these jobs to be a good union job.”
He then discussed the challenges pertaining to the maritime industry, saying, “We’re going to keep up our collective work with the Biden Administration, and get their help to bolster our domestic supply chain. We need their help to get employers to the table, and make sure that employers are signing PLAs (project labor agreements) and supporting registered apprenticeships.
“The kind of opportunities a union apprenticeship can offer, how it can be a first step in not just a job, but a lifechanging career,” he continued. “The Maritime Trades is providing the next generation of workers the tools they need to have a successful entry into the [industry]. But it can only open that door if people know about it, and a lot of folks don’t realize this path to a good union job is available to them.”
He added, “You know, I’m a proud trade unionist, just like everyone else in this room. And nothing makes me more proud than when the good union members and leaders of the Maritime Trades took action, before the devastating hurricanes even hit Puerto Rico and Florida last year. Our movement came together, and it was the Maritime Trades who displayed the best of our labor movement. You knew the storm was coming, and you were prepared. You had containers of critical relief and emergency supplies at the ready in the port cities, all across the Eastern Seaboard and the Gulf. And you had U.S.-crewed ships, tugs and barges, prepared to bring and offload the supplies. That’s a testament to you, and our labor movement.
“And just as you did in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria (in 2017), it was the largest sea-bridge operation of federal disaster aid in FEMA’s history,” he said. “And yet, the same anti-union opportunists tried to take advantage of these disasters for their own gain. They said the Jones Act kept aid away from Puerto Rico and Florida. They said they were just looking out for the security, safety and wellbeing of our fellow Americans. We all know it was a bunch of s*** and a pack of lies. But you stayed focused to your mission, and you saved people’s lives. And you made our labor movement proud.”
Redmond also discussed in detail the power of, and ongoing need for union members to be active in grassroots political action. He emphasized that labor should back pro-worker candidates, regardless of political party, and he talked about numerous wins by such candidates in the most recent elections.