Six SIU members recently earned their respective ways to the top of the steward department upgrading ladder.
During the May 7 membership meeting in Piney Point, Maryland, the following Seafarers graduated from the Paul Hall Center’s steward recertification program: Cesar Cera Dela Cruz, Robinson Eromosele, Michael Ingram, Breon Lucas, Stephen Martin and Tyrell Thabit.
The three-week class blends practical instruction with classroom work, and covers a wide range of topics. Those subjects include collective bargaining, communications and problem solving, functions of various departments within the SIU and the AFLCIO’s Maritime Trades Department, and computer technology. The class also covers social responsibilities and leadership, baking skills, sanitation, nutrition and more.
This particular class of upgraders also participated in a trip to Capitol Hill, where they joined other maritime industry allies in meeting with congressmen and senators who support the Jones Act and other crucial components of the U.S.-flag fleet. (To read more, click here)
As part of the graduation ceremony, each newly minted recertified steward offered some insight into their personal stories, as well as some words of wisdom for the apprentices in attendance. The following are excerpts from their graduation speeches, as well as comments submitted to the Seafarers LOG by the graduates in advance.
Cesar Cera Dela Cruz
Sailing out of Honolulu, Dela Cruz joined the SIU in 1983, and offered his thanks to the staff and instructors at the school. He then described his relationship with the union: “The SIU has been important in my life; it is my bread and butter. It has helped create the foundation of my life in Honolulu, and without the union I wouldn’t have any of that.”
He also offered advice to the trainees assembled in the school’s auditorium, saying, “Study while you’re here and learn from your instructors. Learn to work with your classmates, and when you get out to sea, work hard and carry your load. Never be afraid to be ask questions of your department head.”
After reminding the mariners assembled of the importance of upgrading their skills at the Paul Hall Center, he concluded, “The union’s leadership needs our help to protect our industry and our jobs. We need to donate to SPAD (the union’s voluntary political action fund) in order to give our leadership the resources they need to work for us.”
Eromosele, who emigrated from Nigeria to the United States in 2001, joined the SIU in 2003 and began sailing out of the Port of Houston. He admitted that, while his English skills were lacking at first, he quickly gained proficiency in the language.
“I have been so blessed that I have been able to send my children to college without borrowing money,” he said, noting that two of his children are now medical doctors, with a third child working as a chemical engineer. “The union has been a blessing to me and my family in all aspects of life. I have been able to purchase my dream home in Nigeria, and another family home in Richmond, Texas.”
He also spoke highly of his time spent upgrading at Piney Point: “The overall experience has been very awesome, as this recertification class has given me the opportunity to understand the full meaning of the Jones Act and the importance of SPAD. Everything I have come to know about shipping is all because of the tireless, gentle and very humble instructors I met or took their classes at one point or another. They made me a better person.”
His advice to the trainees was simple. “My recommendation to those coming up: Have a dream, and work to achieve it,” he said.
Sailing out of the Port of Joliet, Illinois, Ingram joined the union in 2006. He began his speech with a quote from poet Maya Angelou: “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.”
He then spoke on the impact that the union has had on his life, saying, “The union has allowed me to provide for my family, purchase my own home and has allowed me to travel to many different countries.”
After mentioning the knowledge he gained about the political process from visiting Capitol Hill, he took the opportunity to thank the school’s instructors who helped him get where he is today. “I’d like to thank John Hetmanski, John Dobson, Paulie (Gelrud), Chef R.J. (Robert Johnson) and Jessie (Sunga), along with many others that have come and gone. I’d also like to thank Steward Danny Jackson, as well as the rest of my fellow Recertified Stewards.”
He offered some personal advice to the apprentices, saying, “Study hard while you are here. Believe it or not, I was days away from being homeless, and look at me now!”
Lucas, who sails from Jacksonville, Florida, spoke about his 23-year career.
“The union has been good to me. They’ve put a roof over my head and offered me a better way of life in general. Through working for the SIU, I have also been able to travel to various different places,” he said.
After praising Instructor John Dobson, he thanked the union leadership for allowing the recertified stewards to attend the recent trip to Congress, saying, “I saw firsthand how you guys have to stand up for us. Thank you for protecting us and our jobs.”
Martin joined the union in Wilmington, California in 1999 and now sails from the Port of Jersey City, New Jersey. He said he is proud to graduate from the recertification program.
“The staff at this school have been great. It’s been like spending time with family,” he said.
Turning his attention to the trainees, Martin continued, “Remember, when you are working in the galley, you are part of a team. Be proactive, and if you have any questions, come see the bosuns or the stewards. Out of all of your lessons, learn to work together, work hard and you’ll be just fine.”
He closed by congratulating his fellow graduates and thanking the SIU for helping to provide the life he now leads.
Before joining the union in Mobile, Alabama, in 1992, Thabit explained that he served in the U.S. Navy for over 10 years.
“In my career, I have sailed on over 50 different ships, and travelled to most of the places a merchant mariner could possibly sail,” said Thabit. “The union has been a very important part of my life, because it has given me opportunities to grow and develop my skills in my chosen profession.
“I would like to thank the instructors and staff here at the school for all that they do,” he continued. “You are all very professional people, who work very hard to make sure that we, as trainees and upgraders, get the best education.”
He also expressed his gratitude for the firsthand look at what it takes to defend the Jones Act on a daily basis, before saying, “The union leadership needs our help to protect our industry and our way of life. We need to always do our best, upgrade our skills, and donate to SPAD.”
He concluded by offering the following advice to the future mariners in the room: “Study hard while you’re here. Learn from your instructors, and work together with your classmates. When you get to the ship, listen to your supervisor, ask questions, and never be afraid to stand up for yourself.”
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