SIU President Michael Sacco notes the passing of two industry stalwarts and also examines the state of maritime
There is good news to report this month, but first I want to begin this column by acknowledging the recent passing of two longtime friends of the SIU: Mike DiPrisco and Tom Mackell. I don’t know how many of our younger members recognize those names, but Mike was a terrific labor relations professional and chairman of the trustees for the Seafarers Plans. He’s been retired for several years but remained a respected figure. Tom wore many hats in our industry, and his work with the SIU went all the way back to the heyday of our union’s late President Paul Hall. Tom was sharp on any subject you could think of, especially politics, and much of his career involved the administration and investment management of employee benefit funds. He, too, was someone we could always count on.
It has been a rough year when it comes to friends and family crossing the final bar. Nevertheless, as I mentioned last month both at the SIU’s El Faro dedication in Jacksonville and again less than two weeks later at a seamen’s center ceremony for my late son, we can choose to remember people for how they lived – doing the things they enjoyed. That’s the approach I’m taking with Mike DiPrisco and Tommy Mackell, two individuals who worked hard for the men and women of the U.S. Merchant Marine.
Without question, both of them were happy to see so much new tonnage entering the American-flag fleet. And that’s where we pick up with some of the positive developments happening in our union. Most months, we are able to report on new ships being built for our contracted operators, or flagging in. None of these gains happens by accident. Our formula for success starts with providing qualified, reliable shipboard manpower, but it also features constant political outreach. Without support for the Jones Act, the Maritime Security Program, and cargo preference laws, our industry wouldn’t survive. That’s why we’re on Capitol Hill just about every day, and it’s why we’re active at other levels of government, too. Whether we’re on our own or, more commonly, working with industry partners, we never stop promoting you and your work.
Unfortunately, our industry also is losing tonnage even while new tankers, RO/ROs, containerships, passenger ferries and other vessels are being built. A weakening of cargo preference laws, drastic reduction of military cargoes, and a political ploy that’s hampering the U.S. Export-Import Bank are key factors here. I’m cautiously optimistic, however, that in the next Congress, we’ll truly start to revitalize the American-flag fleet. We have strong bipartisan support and very solid backing from military leaders. They understand that America’s safety and wellbeing depend in part on maintaining a strong U.S. Merchant Marine in times of peace so that we’re able to deliver the goods in times of war. I like our chances of gaining ground in the New Year.
Again, nothing will be achieved automatically or by accident. But we’ve never been afraid of hard work in the SIU, whether aboard ship or ashore. We’ll keep swinging, together, no matter what obstacles are in front of us.
Can you believe the winter holidays are almost here? We’re having an unusually warm day as I write this column (mid-80s in Camp Springs), so it doesn’t quite seem possible. But that’s where we are on the calendar, so I don’t want to miss a chance to say Happy Thanksgiving to all of our SIU members, retirees and family members. Whether you’re working this holiday or enjoying time on the beach, be safe.