SIU President Michael Sacco reflects on top stories from 2017 and then looks ahead
Any given year is bound to include its share of ups and downs, but 2017 in some ways seemed extreme.
In particular, the series of hurricanes that tore through the Caribbean and parts of the southern U.S. mainland had meteorologists scrambling for the record books. And even as the year wound down, first responders in California were battling wildfires so severe they almost seemed like something from an over-the-top disaster movie.
While the fatalities associated with those crises – not to mention the hundreds of billions of dollars in damages – are beyond sobering, it also has been heartening to not only read about, but also participate in relief efforts. I’m especially proud of how the SIU continues to step up with donations and deliveries for hurricane victims. Whether that involves monetary contributions to an online relief fund, donating badly needed items that we’ve collected at several different facilities, or sailing aboard ships that have helped lead the recovery operations in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, Seafarers once again have answered the call.
So have our contracted vessel operators, despite unbelievably erroneous criticism of the Jones Act in the press and on social media. Unless you are brand new to this industry as of this month, you couldn’t have missed the fight over America’s freight cabotage law. It began last September and was still happening as 2017 drew to a close.
The bottom line when it comes to the Jones Act is that the facts are firmly on our side. There’s a reason this law has enjoyed strong bipartisan support since it was enacted almost a century ago. Actually, there are many reasons, and they all point to U.S. national, economic and homeland security. I understand there are citizens who were fooled by all the shoddy reporting about the Jones Act and Puerto Rico, but for those who know better and helped spread the lies, shame on all of them.
There were, of course, other SIU- and maritime-specific stories in 2017, many of them uplifting. Our entire industry got a boost with the confirmations of Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao and Maritime Administrator Mark Buzby. Brothers and sisters, we simply could not have two people who are more proven and capable and trustworthy going to bat for American-flag shipping and the U.S. Merchant Marine.
I am also confident in Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta, following a meeting with him last month. He’s very interested in our industry and I believe that he, too, will be a strong ally.
We’ve got our regular year-in-review story elsewhere in this edition, and I encourage all members to check it out. There was a lot of good news when it came to new tonnage and new contracts, not to mention several successful conventions and the 50th anniversary of our affiliated school in Piney Point, Maryland.
But with that out of the way, I’m ready to charge into 2018. We’ve got a lot of work to do, promoting both the U.S. Merchant Marine and the labor movement. While it’s not great that we’re facing a manpower crisis, at least there is very high-level awareness of the issue. When the commanding officer of the U.S. Transportation Command is sounding the alarm about the number of civilian mariners available in times of crisis, it means we’ve got a real chance to make progress.
Specifically on the union side, we’ve got strong leadership at the AFL-CIO following the reelections of President Rich Trumka, Secretary- Treasurer Liz Shuler and Executive Vice President Tefere Gebre. They all know what’s at stake and the challenges that lie ahead, but they also have my full confidence.
Our causes couldn’t be more worthwhile. America needs a strong U.S. Merchant Marine, and any society is better off when workers have the benefits and protections of union representation. That’s why I’m excited about tackling our agenda in 2018.