It’s not often the SIU gets to dedicate a brand-new hiring hall, but when the opportunity arose last month in Houston, the ceremonial opening arguably couldn’t have gone better.
Rank-and-file members, retirees, family members and a veritable Who’s Who of Texas politicians packed the hall at 625 North York Street on Dec. 12 for an uplifting dedication that culminated with Theresa Corgey, wife of SIU Vice President Gulf Coast Dean Corgey, breaking a champagne bottle along the corner of an exterior wall. (Perhaps fueled by adrenaline, Mrs. Corgey’s swing took a small chunk off the corner, which caught attendees by surprise and immediately led to jovial questions about whether it’d be covered under warranty.)
Inside the spacious, two-story hall – 100 percent built with union labor – the following guest speakers (in chronological order) had addressed the crowd: Dean Corgey, SIU Secretary-Treasurer David Heindel, Seafarers Plans Co-Chair Tony Naccarato, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, U.S. Rep. Gene Green (D-Texas), U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), and State Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D). Many other local and state politicians also attended.
Fr. Sinclair Oubre, an SIU member, blessed the building.
Before the ceremony, Seafarers effusively spoke about the two-story hall, located a short drive from downtown (and featuring a bus stop directly in front of the building).
“It’s nice – real nice,” said Recertified Steward Bill Churney. “It’s a lot better than where we were, that’s for sure. The parking is the biggest (improvement) for me. At the old hall, you had to park two or three blocks away. Also, the fact that this is a new building doesn’t hurt, either.”
Electrician Lee Collins stated, “It’s a beautiful place. We got a nice parking area, so we don’t have to worry about parking on the streets anymore. The inside is beautiful; we have nice job boards; there are plenty of seats and tables, plus (separate) TV and coffee-break rooms. It’s fantastic.”
Shoregang Bosun John Cain, a Seafarer for more than 50 years, stressed that Dean Corgey’s role in overseeing the massive project shouldn’t be overlooked.
“It wouldn’t have happened without Dean,” Cain observed. “It was a vision of his for us to have a new hall, and he never gave up on it. Credit Dave (Heindel), too, because we couldn’t have done it without his support.”
While the SIU has a solid history of relocating to more-desirable halls, the Houston facility is the first brand-new building the organization has opened since 1981. There were two new ones that year, in Gloucester, Massachusetts and Mobile, Alabama, respectively.
During the ceremony, Corgey said the job boards are the “heart and soul” of the operation. He noted that while the boards are for Seafarers, they hold meaning for vessel owners and operators, too.
“They are partners in this operation, and what they really like is they can bring a ship into Houston and if they have an opening, they call us and they know they’re going to get a qualified, physically fit, drug-free seaman to go down there and navigate their vessel that they paid many millions of dollars for,” Corgey said.
He added, “I’m proud to say we got it down under budget, on time, and debt-free.”
Heindel thanked Seafarers Plans Administrator Maggie Bowen (who was in attendance) for her backing of the new hall, and then pointed out that the facility reflects the union’s commitment to providing the best possible service to the membership.
“This new union hall is a shining manifestation of that commitment and that mission,” Heindel said. “Just like SIU members have to keep up with the ever-changing requirements and demands of our industry, the union itself stays proactive. Whether we’re building from scratch or remodeling an existing building, and whether we’re upgrading our affiliated school in Piney Point, Maryland, or delivering off-site training to our contracted companies across the country, we plan ahead with the best interests of Seafarers foremost in mind.”
Naccarato, a seasoned labor-relations veteran, said that the union’s success and that of its contracted companies clearly are linked. He also saluted SIU President Michael Sacco, Executive Vice President Augie Tellez, Heindel and Corgey as “gifted men of high ideals and enlightened attitude who have always shown steadfast loyalty to their member and to the American maritime industry.”
He continued, “To the Seafarers in the room, I say thank you for your service and for your willingness to sacrifice time away from your families and friends. You are truly appreciated, not only for providing a decent living standard for yourself and your family, but also for the valuable contribution to the defense and security of this nation. Your participation and support is absolutely indispensable, now more than ever.”
Mayor Turner said the building “symbolizes growth, vitality, and that our future is truly bright…. To the Seafarers, thank you for what you’ve done. This is a great gift.”
Judge Emmett, who has an extensive maritime background, explained the wide range of organizations that play key roles in the industry, but added, “At the end of the day, every day, it’s the men and women of labor who make it all work – period. No matter what your politics are, and no matter whether you’re on the retail side or the wholesale side, it really comes down to who does the work and who makes global commerce work? It’s you. Everybody in this whole community should thank the SIU for what they do every day.”
Rep. Green commended Corgey and the rand-and-file members, and also presented a flag for the hall that had flown over the U.S. Capitol on Labor Day.
Rep. Jackson Lee, like Rep. Green, she appreciates the longtime support of the SIU and added, “Seafarers believe in the public good. To the union men and women that are here, you are truly heroes of the sea. This is a hard job. It is a dangerous job. It is a vital job, and America is stronger because your union is willing to move (goods) all over the world.”
She said she is “excited about this building that is not only for jobs, but for fellowship – a comforting place to come after a long journey on the sea. Thank you, Seafarers, for all that you do for the United States of America.”
State Sen. Garcia also thanked the members “for all your hard work. [Maritime] is a huge economic engine. It brings good jobs, it brings good benefits, and [it is vital to families]…. What’s important for all of us is to make sure that everyone in this area has a good job.”
The SIU’s Houston operations had been temporarily housed at a Communications Workers of America building the past two years. Previously, the SIU worked from a hall on Pierce Street for 37 years.
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