The first quarter of the New Year has almost felt like a blur at times, with so many efforts underway to continue promoting the U.S. Merchant Marine in the new administration. The SIU never stops working to protect your jobs and secure new ones, but even by our solid standards, we’ve been quite active dating back to November.
At the same time, I recently had a chance to reflect on some of the progress we’ve made not only during my time at the helm, but also turning back the calendar to the opening of our affiliated school in Piney Point, Maryland, 50 years ago. Those advancements are a testament to our organization and to the union way of life.
For example, some of the members who are now retiring could tell our younger Seafarers about an era when our medical benefits were nowhere near as good as they are today. Likewise, we didn’t always have the Seafarers Money Purchase Pension Plan, or the Seafarers 401(k) Plan. Relative to our union’s history (we were chartered in 1938), those are newer plans. We tend to be methodical when we make changes, but in the long run, it pays off with those kinds of gains.
I’m proud to report that all of the Seafarers Plans are in good shape, by the way. Based on the reports given at the recent trustee meetings, they are on very solid ground.
Shortly before those meetings, I paid my first visit to our new union hall in Houston, and it’s every bit as good as I’d heard (and seen in photos). We’re opening another new hall later this year in Puerto Rico, and that’ll be an upgrade both in terms of the actual facility and its location.
Those aren’t rare occurrences. We have been opening new halls all across the country over the years while refurbishing others.
Nowhere is our progress more evident than in Piney Point, a place that threw me into culture shock back during the late 1960s. Let’s just say it didn’t quite measure up to Brooklyn in my eyes at the time.
But the school, over time, has become our hub and our lifeblood. The educational opportunities available there for SIU members have grown and improved, along with the campus itself. Piney Point helped open doors for female mariners that didn’t exist during our union’s formative period. Meanwhile, the massive upgrades to the school’s simulation equipment in recent years rank right up there with any other gain in the Paul Hall Center’s history.
Those are just a few highlights that recently crossed my mind, but I don’t think that any of the SIU’s gains would be possible without our solidarity or without the protections of a union contract. I appreciate your faith in me and in the people who work for you throughout the union. I’ll continue to do the job you elected me to do.
I’d be remiss in not mentioning another reason we’ve managed to ride out the inevitably rough seas that roll around from time to time, and that’s the effective working relationships we normally enjoy with our contracted operators. We’re never going to see eye to eye on every single issue or every last detail of a contract, but at a time when our industry is fighting to survive, it’s critical that we work together with our companies and with others from throughout the American maritime industry. We’re doing that, and again, our capability in that regard depends in part on our status as a trade union.
As we head into the second quarter, I’m determined to keep building on our progress, and I’m optimistic that our best days as an organization are still in front of us.
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