SIU President Michael Sacco recaps the union’s accomplishments and again reflects on the El Faro tragedy
Like many other publications and websites, we normally include coverage at this time of year that looks back on the previous 12 months. It’s a good way to remind ourselves of what’s been accomplished and where we need to re-chart our course.
It’s also another way I can tell Christmas and New Year’s Day are close: More and more “year in review” articles are popping up in my daily readings, which include a mix of websites and printed newspapers. (An aside: I recently switched from an older iPhone to a phablet. It took some getting used to but it’s now easier to keep up on the news when I’m travelling.)
For the SIU, while the tragic loss of the El Faro’s
crew quite obviously was the most significant thing that happened in 2015, I really don’t think of it in terms of a disaster that unfolded in a particular year. It’s much bigger than that; it is now and forever will be a major part of our overall history, like the more than 1,200 Seafarers who gave their lives in World War II and all others who have perished on the job. As the old union saying goes, we mourn for the dead while fighting for the living.
We have grieved together at the halls and on ships and online, sharing our devastation as well as our hopes for healing. We have stepped up with memorials and with a fund that is collecting money to assist the families. We will utilize whatever can be learned from the government’s investigation of the sinking.
No amount of good news from 2015 could possibly begin to compensate for the El Faro, but the SIU does have much to be proud of from the past year. We helped secure three major wins on Capitol Hill, starting with a massive show of congressional support for the Jones Act early in the year, and finishing in late 2015 with the renewal of the U.S. Export-Import Bank and a boost to the U.S. Maritime Security Program. To be clear, those accomplishments were made through cooperative efforts involving many organizations and individuals – but we did our part and then some. To put it in football terms, we didn’t get credit for an assisted tackle by jumping onto the pile at the end. We were among those making first contact right at the line of scrimmage.
We also negotiated several contracts for Seafarers in different segments of the industry, and without exception those agreements called for wage increases while either maintaining or improving benefits. Our record when it comes to contracts is unsurpassed, and I don’t say that to knock any other unions, maritime or otherwise. This is a credit to our officials, to our contracted operators who respect your work, and to you, the rank-and-file Seafarer. I say it all the time because it’s true: We can’t succeed as a union without being able to point to the outstanding jobs you perform every day.
If you pick up the LOG or read it online with any regularity, you also know that 2015 was a great year for us in terms of new tonnage. Here again, the SIU wouldn’t try to take too much credit for the new-build programs happening across the country, but our work behind the scenes has been an important factor in virtually all of them. And again, your work on the ships and tugs and ferries and everything else we’ve got that floats is also a big part of the equation. Companies don’t invest in new tonnage if they don’t have confidence they can secure qualified, reliable shipboard manpower.
No recap of 2015 for us would be complete without mentioning the huge improvements implemented at our affiliated school in Piney Point, Maryland. I’ve always been proud of the school, but it’s no exaggeration to describe it as a world-class facility. It remains a crucial part of our future, and I’d stack it up against any other maritime training center.
As we sail into the New Year, I thank you for supporting my administration and I look forward to more achievements in 2016.