Eleven deck department Seafarers recently recorded the crowning achievements of their respective upgrading careers when they graduated from the Bosun Recertification course at the union-affiliated Paul Hall Center for Maritime Training and Education (PHC) in Piney Point, Maryland.
In recognition of their ascent to the summit of the deck department hierarchy, each received certificates Aug. 8 during the union’s membership meeting at the PHC. The graduates—Bosuns Kenny Abrahamson, Bernard Baker, James Blitch, David Denizac, Paul Inniss, Karl Mayhew, Hussein Mohamed, Noel Otero, Ritche Acuman, Ron Sagadraca and Tecumseh Williams—also addressed union officials, fellow upgraders, trainees and guests who attended the meeting.
Collectively, they expressed their gratitude for the opportunities they have been afforded to enhance their skills, improve their lives and those of their families, and become better shipmates to their brothers and sisters aboard SIUcontracted vessels. In addition, each thanked the union leadership for its continued support, and the PHC vocational and hotel staffs for their excellent instruction and accommodations, respectively. Finally, they acknowledged a host of other individuals who played key roles in their successes.
Baker was the first to take the podium. He sails out of the Port of St. Louis and has returned to the school nine previous times to improve his skills. Baker signed on with the union in 1993 in Honolulu.
“I have been sailing for 46 years … 23 in the Navy and 23 with the SIU,” he told the audience. “The union has been my lifeline after leaving the Navy. It has given me a place to use the leadership skills I acquired in the Navy and has taught me a great deal not only about deck seamanship but also about the Brotherhood of the Sea.”
Baker then expressed his appreciation to the school and the union’s leadership for supporting him over the years. “I would like to thank the instructors and staff of the school—past and present— for all the help and encouragement they have given me throughout the years,” he said. “I also thank the union leadership for all their hard work protecting our jobs.”
In closing, Baker offered words of encouragement to the apprentices who were in attendance. “You are the future of the union,” he said “Learn as much as you can so that you can position yourselves to become the leaders of the SIU’s future. Listen, learn and never be afraid to ask questions.”
Blitch sails from the Port of Jacksonville and has been a member of the SIU family since 1979.
“I was a member of Class 275-B,” he told the audience. “Sailing in the deck department as ordinary seaman, able bodied seaman and as bosun, I have sailed around the world a dozen times. The union has provided me and my family the ability to enjoy the life of a proud American and proud union member.”
He then recognized the school’s instructors and the union’s leadership for their respective contributions toward his career accomplishments, saying: “I would like to thank everyone at the school for their instruction and help. Every time I return to the school, you have become more professional and helpful.
“The union leaders’ hard work at headquarters and the training at the school have secured jobs for the future,” he continued. “All Seafarers are grateful to you.”
He then reminded his brothers and sisters of the importance of being politically active and how it benefits the entire organization. “SPAD is one thing we should not forget because it works for all of us,” Blitch said. He encouraged everyone to support SPAD by continuing to make donations.
“You trainees should always remember this: You have the opportunity to live the life others only dream of,” he said to the apprentices in closing. “It’s (sailing) long hours of hard work that will pay you back ten-fold. Always remember the men and women who came before you and make them proud.
“Don’t forget to vote in all elections,” he added.
Mohamed hails from the Port of Wilmington. He joined the SIU in 1997 in Honolulu and on three previous occasions has upgraded his skills in Piney Point.
“The union has been important in my life because if it were not for the SIU, I would not be standing here in front of you,” he said.
The son and grandson of former SIU members, Mohamed said, “The SIU gave me the opportunity to improve myself and be able to support my family. I am proud to be a part of the SIU and I strongly encourage all union members to come to the school and upgrade your skills in order to advance your careers. Many thanks to the staff and instructors at the Paul Hall Center for a great job here at the school.”
Turning his attention to the leadership, Mohamed thanked officials for their efforts that have benefitted the membership. “I would like to give thanks to the union leadership for all their hard work preserving and protecting our jobs, he said. “For them to continue to protect our industry, they need our help. We need to donate to SPAD and exercise our right to vote, especially this year.”
Addressing the apprentices, he said, “You are the future of the SIU. Study hard, work hard and listen to your instructors.” He closed by advising all members present that it is vital to return to the school as often as possible to upgrade their skills.
Abrahamson sails from the Port of Oakland. A Seafarer since 1998, he was member of Paul Hall Center Apprentice Class 574. Prior to attending the bosun recertification class, Abrahamson returned to the school on three previous to enhance his skills.
“I have sailed to every continent and have crossed every ocean,” he said upon taking the podium. “Seeing the world has given me a unique opportunity to appreciate being an American, an experience that would not have been possible without the SIU.
“The union has been important in my life because it has provided me with a career in which I can support my family and handle a mortgage,” he continued. “I appreciate all of the hard work the union leadership has done to make my career possible and the things they still do to protect our jobs and our fleet. During my visit to headquarters, I got to see how dedicated they all are to us and our future.”
He added that rank-and-file support is crucial when it comes to protecting jobs and the industry. “We can do this by being professionals at work, upgrading the skills we need to do our jobs and donating to SPAD,” Abrahamson stated. “We donate to SPAD so we can have a voice in Washington.” Abrahamson also told those present to be politically active by voting in the upcoming union as well as national elections.
“Apply yourselves while you are here,” he urged the apprentices in closing. “When you get aboard ships, work hard and pay attention to the old timers.”
A union member since 1983, Sagadraca donned the SIU colors in Honolulu. He calls the Port of Wilmington home and has upgraded his skills at the school on two prior occasions.
“I’ve been sailing for 33 years,” Sagadraca told his union brothers and sisters. “It’s an honor to be here today. The union has provided me with a solid foundation throughout my career. I could not have achieved what I have without the professionalism and support of the staff and instructors here at the school and our leadership at headquarters.”
Reflecting on the training he received during the recertification curriculum, he said it was a great experience and a wonderful learning opportunity. “I would like to thank the committee and my peers for selecting me to be a member of this bosun recertification class,” he said. “It gave me a broad vision and greater understanding of how hard the SIU works for us.”
He added that the knowledge he gained during his training would make him a more effective leader aboard his vessel. “I will now be able to provide crew members with accurate information on how the union really works,” he said. “Hopefully, this will groom and guide them into becoming more professional mariners and better representatives for the SIU.”
Sagadraca closed by offering the trainees encouragement in their studies and best wishes for successful careers. “Study hard, listen to your instructors and don’t forget to vote in the upcoming union and national elections,” he said.
Williams has been sailing under the SIU colors since 1977. He joined in Norfolk, Virginia, the same port which he currently calls home.
Williams expressed his gratitude to all involved for the wealth of new knowledge he gained about the SIU and maritime industry as a result of attending the class.
“I thank everyone involved for this opportunity to get into the bosun recertification course,” he said. “During this training, I learned a lot of things about the union that I didn’t know.”
Williams said he was especially impressed with his visit to headquarters. It was there that he and his classmates received an upclose and personal look at the things that go on quietly behind the scenes which help keep the organization running. “I learned a lot about what our officials do on a daily basis on behalf of the union’s membership,” he said. “They work very hard to get and keep our jobs and protect our industry.”
He thanked the school’s instructors and staff for making his Piney Point experience a memorable one. “The instructors did a great job and the staff was very supportive,” he said. “I thank them all as well as my classmates for making my trip here informative and rewarding.
“The SIU is a great career,” he said to the apprentices in closing. “Work hard and upgrade.”
Acuman was next to address the meeting. An SIU member since 2002, he signed on in the Port of San Francisco. He sails from the Port of Oakland and on six previous instances has upgraded his skills at the PHC.
“In 1992, I graduated in the Philippines with a bachelor of science in marine transportation,” he said. “After my graduation, I was able to sail right away. Working on a ship has always been my passion.
“Since joining the SIU in San Francisco, I can say without a shadow of a doubt that my career has blossomed,” he continued. “Since joining the union, I am living the American dream.”
Acuman said he feels “fortunate that I found the SIU” and added, “It’s an honor to be a part of it. I now have a stable income, extra money to help my family here and my relatives back home in the Philippines and peace of mind in knowing that there will always be a job for me and for all of us. There are lots of opportunities out there waiting for us to take advantage of them.”
Addressing the apprentices, Acuman said that if they demonstrate perseverance, they have an excellent chance to realize their career goals. “Be open-minded, be hungry, believe in yourselves and stay focused on your goals,” he said. “Always conduct yourselves in a professional manner regardless of the situation you may face because you are ambassadors for the SIU.”
Acuman then thanked the union officials – including those based at headquarters and Oakland, respectively – for the hard work they have done on behalf him and the rest of the membership. He also expressed his gratitude to the PHC instructors and staff. “I would not be here today of God had not blessed me with good people who supported me 100 percent,” he said.
“Last but not least (I thank) my lovely wife, Myrel, for always being there for me and my children who keep me grounded,” he concluded. “Before I return to my seat, I want to share a passage from the Bible with you: In Philippians 4:13, it says I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.”
Inniss, who joined the union in 2001 in New York and who currently ships from the Jersey City, New Jersey, hall, upgraded in Piney Point two other times before entering the recertification class. He described his recent experience at the school as “very educational.”
Additionally, Innis said he particularly enjoyed meeting with headquarters officials and gaining new insights about both the SIU and its affiliated school. He credited officials and staff members with promptly and accurately answering his questions on various topics.
During the class, Innis also fondly recalled becoming part of the SIU when his old labor organization (the National Maritime Union) merged into the Seafarers. The merger helped him stick with a career he finds meaningful.
“I come from a seafaring background – my uncles sailed,” he noted. “There are many reasons I love being a seaman. I love my job and it’s good money, too.”
A proud union member since 1999, Otero was next to address his brothers and sisters. He sails from the Port of San Juan.
“Yes, I’m another tall, good looking guy from San Juan, Puerto Rico,” he said in a friendly reference to Port Agent Amancio Crespo.
“Today, I am a proud member of another prestigious bosun recertification class. I am ready to take on another job and to continue my seaworthy career with the SIU.”
Reflecting on past events that led him to donning the SIU colors, Otero offered, “It is with happiness and sorrow that I remember my first days as an ordinary seaman. After 10 years of continuous service, I was laid off from a hotel at which I had been working.”
It was at that point that he discovered the SIU. “I took on the challenge that this great organization offered me,” he recalled. Job security has not been an issue for him since those early days; but he has noticed the maritime transportation business fluctuating before his eyes.
“The maritime industry has changed tremendously since then,” he said. “Every time we look around, another new rule or regulatory amendment comes across our bow.”
Otero pointed out that given the emphasis on vessel safety and the constant threat of maritime terrorism on the high seas, mariners must always be at the top of their game where education and professionalism are concerned. “It is comforting and assuring to know that we belong to a union that prepares its members in the highest levels of maritime science and safety so that operators will be assured of success,” he said. “This secures a great future for members and their families as well.”
After wishing the trainees the very best in their careers, he reminded them of the importance of returning to the school to hone their skills. “This maritime center for training and education has been a lighthouse for those lost at sea … and with our support and participation, it will continue to be an industry icon,” he said.
Mayhew hails from the Port of Jersey City. An SIU member since 2001, he signed on in New York. Brother Mayhew has upgraded his skills on 12 previous occasions at the Paul Hall Center.
“I am proud to be a member of the SIU,” he said. “I have been fortunate to ship from the port of New York and Jersey City since 1990.”
Mayhew told the audience that it is vitally important for them as mariners to always carry and conduct themselves as professionals. “You should do this whether you are in one of our union hiring halls, here at the school or on a ship,” he said. “Treat other people like you would like to be treated.”
Reflecting on what being an SIU member has meant to him, Mayhew said that being a union member in good standing over the decades has made it finically possible to provide himself and his family a better standard of living. “Try maintaining an SIU standard of living with a non-union paying job. Good luck with that,” he said.
Addressing the importance of political activity, Mayhew told those present that as they advanced in their careers— which is not just a job—they should give back in order to help those who follow them. “I honestly did not always appreciate the importance of our Seafarers Political Action Donation program” he said. “Without SPAD to help our elected officials inform everyone possible about what we professional mariners do, our union jobs could end up being eliminated in the future.”
He reminded the audience that the SIU of Canada recently won a fight to make sure that their union members got first chance for employment on domestic ships. “Without SPAD, we would all have no chance,” he said. “Please let us all work together for our future.”
He then thanked the union leadership for their hard work in protecting the membership’s future and jobs. Mayhew suggested that union members should demonstrate their appreciation to the organization by always doing their best on the job. “To do this, we must make a commitment to continually upgrading our maritime skills here at one of the best Coast Guard-approved training facilities in the United States,” he said. “Also, please vote in our union and presidential elections this November.
“I would like to thank the good instructors here at this school, especially Peggy Densford in the academic department for her help with our speeches,” he continued. “All the great people here do such a good job of making our school run so well, day in and year out, they should be commended.” He then sent shout-outs to union officials on the dais and at the Jersey City Hall—including Port Agent Bobby Selzer—for all they do.
“To the trainees, never be afraid to ask questions and please try to learn from your instructors while you are here,” Mayhew said in closing. “One of the more important lessons you’ll face is learning how to work together as a team with your classmates.
“Teamwork is vital in doing our jobs,” he concluded.
Denizac was the final graduate to address his peers. He sails from the Port of Jacksonville, joined the union in New York and has enhanced his sills on four previous occasions in Piney Point.
“I have been sailing for 30 years,” he said. “The union has been important in my life because I am able to have a job and a house. If not for the SIU, I would not have all of these things.
“I would like to thank the union leadership for their hard work and all the things they do to protect our jobs,” he said. “During my visit to headquarters I saw firsthand their work as a team. I send thanks to Mike, Augie, George, David, Maggie, Ambrose, Bobby, Kermett, Jack and Archie.
“I would not be here today if God didn’t bless me with good people who supported me 100 percent,” he added. Denizac then thanked the school’s instructors and staff for the support they provided to him and his classmates. He urged the apprentices to study hard and always put their best efforts forward.
“I encourage everyone to vote,” he added.
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