The annual dinner-dance hosted by the Maritime Port Council of Greater New York/ New Jersey and Vicinity on June 9 celebrated the past with a compass pointing straight at the future.
All three awardees – U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-Louisiana), American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten and TOTE Maritime President Tim Nolan – acknowledged what has been done by the U.S.- flag maritime industry but proclaimed more is to come.
The port council is part of the Maritime Trades Department (MTD), a constitutional department of the AFL-CIO. SIU President Michael Sacco also serves as president of the MTD, which has 23 affiliated unions representing approximately five million workers.
Richmond not only heads the Congressional Maritime Caucus, he also chairs the Congressional Black Caucus. First elected in 2010, Richmond’s second congressional district includes more maritime workers than any other in the country. He received the port council’s Government Man of the Year Award.
He told the crowd of more than 300 that his mother was a longtime union teacher in New Orleans public schools and his stepfather had been a merchant mariner. Those are some of the reasons he works to make sure “people can make a living wage.”
Richmond declared, “It takes labor to protect the Jones Act and cargo preference. This has been done in no small part by the brothers and sisters in the Maritime Trades, but the whole AFL-CIO.”
He said the folks of the maritime industry are people of “courage and patriotism. They are people who make a difference. They have an obligation to this country. The entire Congress is starting to understand the importance of the maritime industry. We are educating them.”
SIU Political Consultant Terry Turner introduced Richmond, noting he has come far in leadership in a short time because he listens and works with all. Turner pointed out that despite their political ideologies, Richmond works closely with House Republican Whip Steve Scalise (R-Louisiana) because both of them understand the bipartisan nature of the U.S.-flag fleet.
In presenting Weingarten for the Paul Hall Award of Merit, Sacco recalled how she introduced maritime to a potable water filtration program called Operation Agua during last year’s AFL-CIO Convention.
“Under Randi’s leadership, from West Virginia to Arizona and in many other places, the AFT has breathed new life into the labor movement. And they’ve helped educate – no pun intended – the general public about all the great things unions stand for.”
Weingarten raced to the dinner straight from the airport after visiting with an ailing AFT official. She apologized for not changing by saying, “We are family. We care and we show up where we are needed.”
She remembered the fight over the Jones Act in the days after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico.
“The moment people don’t want to do anything, they blame somebody,” she said. “Don’t tell me the Jones Act caused the hurricane! The people who really showed up for the Puerto Rican people is the maritime industry! The maritime industry got to the port after the storm!”
Weingarten noted that “the island looked like Europe after World War II” when she arrived days after the impact to assess what needed to be done for her members.
She began a process of working with others to figure out how they could help all of Puerto Rico immediately. One problem was people were scavenging for drinkable water. As part of a coalition, the Teachers worked with Kohler to have thousands upon thousands of non-electrified water filtration systems made available to the island.
A major part of the coalition was the MTD-affiliated SIU, which arranged for the filters to be sent free of charge aboard U.S.-flag vessels.
“By this summer, we will have reached our goal of 100,000 filters to the island. That is what America is all about! That is what you have done. I am so grateful for this partnership,” Weingarten stated. “We have to ensure the U.S.-flag industry stays alive.”
From the industry side, TOTE Maritime’s newly announced president and CEO, Tim Nolan, worked directly with Operation Agua and continues to oversee relief efforts for Puerto Rico. He had been serving as president of TOTE Maritime, Puerto Rico.
Nolan, the recipient of the Herb Brand Memorial Award (which goes to a U.S.-flag industry leader), reminded all what the American- flag companies already have accomplished since Maria as well as what still has to be done for the island to recover.
“The U.S. maritime industry was the first to arrive. Our collective response to Hurricane Maria is what makes the U.S. maritime industry so great. The U.S. maritime industry added 50 percent more capacity after the storm,” he explained.
While noting he never had the honor of meeting Brand (a former Seafarers LOG editor who worked and promoted the industry from the union and business side for more than 50 years), Nolan said, “This is what Herb Brand and others strove to achieve.”
SIU Executive Vice President and MTD Executive Board Member Augie Tellez pointed out that Nolan’s character was tested as TOTE had introduced two new LNG-powered, U.S.- built, U.S.-flag vessels when the hurricane struck.
“He came through and stood tall,” Tellez stated. “He was an ally in Operation Agua. He came and answered the call to the people of Puerto Rico – a job that is still ongoing.”
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