The union’s newest class of recertified bosuns has plenty of positive experiences to share, as described in their respective graduation speeches Aug. 6 in Piney Point, Maryland.
Completing the top deck department curriculum available at the SIU-affiliated Paul Hall Center for Maritime Training and Education (PHC) were Adel Ahmed, John D. Cedeno Jr., Thomas Moore, Victor R. Nunez, Eugene Perez Jr., Amin Quraish, Modesto Y. Rabena Jr., Nicholas Smithling, Sanyboy Whiting, Artis Williams and Josephus Willis.
The two-week class includes a mix of refresher and practical training, classroom work, meetings with representatives from different union offices, gatherings with personnel from the Seafarers Plans, a day trip to AFL-CIO headquarters (also home to the Maritime Trades Department), and more.
The following are highlights from the graduation speeches (delivered during the monthly membership meeting), supplemented by written statements submitted by the Seafarers.
Moore took to the stage first. He joined the union in 1989, and sails from the port of Baltimore.
He spoke about his personal journey to becoming a Seafarer: “Before I joined the SIU in August of 1989, I worked for three years in a paper mill, and lived in a school bus. I was searching for a better way, and I told my father I would like to join the U.S. Merchant Marine. A few days later, he gave me a phone number to call, and said, ‘It’s the SIU.’ Soon after, I was here at Piney Point.”
He continued, describing his first job aboard a research vessel in Singapore, saying, “It was a good job. I learned to complete jobs, earn my transportation home, and ship back out. I also learned what it meant to me when an SIU bosun said, ‘You can make another trip.’ I never had a bad job; they have all been good.”
He concluded, “Since I have been an SIU member, I have seen nothing but improvement, both at the school and in my life. Thanks to President Michael Sacco and our other union leaders for all you do to keep the SIU great. I thank my SIU brothers for a class I will never forget.”
Whiting, who sails from the port of Honolulu, took the podium next.
“I have been a part of the SIU since I was 28 years old, and I have been sailing for 28 years,” he began. “I have sailed around the world, and now I work on AT&T and Tyco cable ships, a job that takes me all over the world.”
He reflected on the personal significance of the SIU: “The union has been important in my life, because it taught me the value of life, respect, dignity, pride and the importance of absorbing all the experiences of life. Those are the things I treasure the most about my time in the union.”
After thanking the union leadership, he turned to another topic that would become a theme of the day’s speeches: the importance of the Seafarers Political Activities Donation (SPAD).
“The union leadership needs our help to protect our industry and jobs,” he said. “We need to always do our best on the job, and we need to upgrade our skills, but we need to donate to SPAD so that the union officials have the resources they need to go to work for us on Capitol Hill. And, of course, we need to always vote in elections.”
Sailing from the Port of Houston, Smithling offered a look into his reasons for graduating from the class, saying, “I have enjoyed continuing my grandfather’s legacy as a recertified bosun. I hope in death that he looks upon me and can see what I’ve done to preserve what he and the union have fought so hard for. I came in at the age of 18, and was given every opportunity to persevere in my maritime career. I received a Maryland State diploma (via the certified program at the Paul Hall Center), after taking a vast array of educational courses. I had dropped out of school as a kid, so that means a lot to me.”
He continued, “This industry has afforded me many experiences. I am truly proud of where I have arrived in life. I feel I’ve come a long way from my beginning as a small-town hardhead. And I’ve picked up knowledge from all four corners of the Earth along the way.”
Smithling also thanked the staff and instructors at the PHC: “I truly admire your hard work and dedication to the school. I furthermore would like to recognize the union leadership for the daunting tasks of keeping this union and the U.S.-flag fleet so very strong. But it cannot be done without our SPAD contributions.”
Modesto Y. Rabena Jr.
Rabena was next to receive his diploma. He sails from the Port of Tacoma, Washington.
“I’m so blessed, fortunate and lucky enough to be here today,” he said. “I joined the SIU back in 2000 at age 37, and I’ve been sailing for the past 18 years…. This union has been important in my life because it allows me to support the needs of myself and my family.”
A frequent upgrader, Rabena said the school continues to improve. “I’m truly in love with the school,” he stated. “I’ve enjoyed my latest stay, and I’m amazed how beautiful and wonderful it is. My overall experience at Piney Point is very precious to me, and I will remember fondly my time here. The training here has challenged me to become who I am today, and has given me a sense of power to be my best self. I will take the methods that I have learned here – with the finest crewmates in the entire SIU – and apply them on whichever ship I sail on next.”
He finished his graduation speech by saying, “I would like to thank our teachers and the staff at the school for all that they do, and I’d like to thank the union leadership for all their hard work protecting our jobs. During my visit to headquarters and the Maritime Trades Department, I saw firsthand the kind of work they have to do to protect our jobs and keep our union strong, for this generation and the next.”
Josephus O. Willis
Willis, a member for 18 years who sails from the Port of Norfolk, Virginia, summarized his thoughts on his most recent experience at the PHC in a single word: “Professional.”
He expanded on that thought during his graduation speech, saying, “I would like to thank President Sacco, Mr. (Augie) Tellez (the union’s executive vice president) and all the SIU instructors and staff for a job well done. They’ve showed professionalism at its best. On our trips to Camp Springs and Washington D.C., I saw firsthand their hard work negotiating contracts – and it’s not an easy job. Thank you for what you do for us, and for the whole SIU.”
He also outlined some of the specific knowledge he gained from the recertification course, including leadership responsibilities, information on the Seafarers Pension Plan and Seafarers Health and Benefits Plan, the contracts process and the importance of SPAD. Being armed with this information, he said, “helps me be a better leader for my shipmates, and give them advice on problems or questions they have to the best of my ability.”
Ahmed, a proud member of 2001’s Class 619, took the stage next. He sails out of the Port of Tacoma.
“It’s good to be here. It took me 17 years of hard work and dedication to stand in front of you all today,” he began. “It all started back in 2001 when I was 20 years old. That’s when I decided to follow in my dad’s footsteps. I was travelling from state to state, searching for work that I’d enjoy doing, as my father had spent the past two years trying to convince me to join the SIU. Dad, I’m sorry for not following your advice earlier.”
He then reflected on a few memories: “I remember the day I arrived at Piney Point for my first phase. I remember losing my long, silky hair in the barbershop chair – the same chair that is still used today. I remember hearing third-phase students laughing and making jokes about how ugly my head looked without hair…. I remember waking up at 4 a.m. to make my bed and start a long day, from working in the galley to marching to class. I remember asking myself, ‘Why am I here?’ But that answer became clear during my time as a union member…. All the sacrifices we endure, the sleepless nights we go through, it all pays off in the end.”
He then thanked the union officials, as well as his father and wife, before specifically thanking some staff members at the PHC. “Special thanks to the academic department, the transportation department and the color guard who raise our flags during morning colors,” Ahmed stated. “I also want to thank to the Port of Tacoma reps: Joe, Ben, Warren and Brenda” (Port Agent Joe Vincenzo, Safety Director Ben Anderson, Patrolman Warren Asp and Administrative Assistant Brenda Flesner).
Hailing from the Port of Oakland, California, Williams kept his speech short and direct. He first sailed with the SIU from 1980 to 1986, taking some time off before returning to the union in 1993.
“I come from a union family. My dad was a local union president,” he said. “The union has been important to me because it keeps me working, and helps me sustain my way of life.”
He later spoke on how the union influenced him. “Everything I have today comes from this job,” Williams said. “Being a mariner will show you things that will help you in other parts of your life. I have learned that if I take care of the SIU and take care in my job, then the union will take care of me.”
He also recounted his experiences in and out of the classroom, specifically mentioning his trip to the union’s headquarters, saying the trip “helped me get a better understanding of the political side of the SIU, and gave me more insight into the inner workings of contracts and union leadership as a whole.”
Eugene Perez Jr.
Perez, an SIU mariner since 1984, joined the union at the New York hall, which has since moved to New Jersey. He currently sails out of Jacksonville, Florida
“As a kid coming from the Red Hook projects in Brooklyn, to this beautiful school here in Piney Point, I knew my life was going to change for the better,” he said. “This union has helped me provide very well for my family. I am so proud to be a member of the SIU.”
Perez also took a moment to acknowledge the SIU executives, saying, “I would like to thank the leadership for all the hard work they do protecting our jobs. I cannot stress how important it is to donate to SPAD, as those funds give the leadership the resources to help protect the Jones Act and our jobs.”
“It has been an awesome experience, one that I will never forget,” he concluded about the recertification class.
Quraish, a member since 2001, offered up his story next. He sails from the Port of Algonac, Michigan.
“I started back in 2001 on the Great Lakes. I worked my way up the ladder, working hard every day, and sacrificed a lot of time away from my family to provide for them,” he said. “It’s an honor for me to be here, to celebrate this special day in my life.
“I would like to thank our union leaders, instructors and union reps for getting me to where I am today,” he continued. “I would also like to thank our leaders for standing up for us, and what they’ve accomplished behind the scenes to protect and fight for our jobs. An easier way to say it is, they are not just here at Piney Point, brothers and sisters, they are our backbone that makes us thrive forward.”
He had previously talked about his experience at the PHC, saying, “My experience in Piney Point has been very educational. I was very impressed by our instructors; they were very knowledgeable about our jobs…. During the course, I improved my leadership skills, how to coach new members, and learned in greater detail all of my responsibilities as a bosun, and how to keep a professional workplace.”
John D. Cedeno, Jr.
Sailing from Jacksonville, Cedeno reflected on his 27- year career with the SIU during his speech.
He said, “As a Seafarer, I’ve traveled to many countries, like India, Singapore, Panama, Costa Rica, Venezuela … the list goes on and on. But one thing’s for certain, I’ve created a lot of memories. Good ones, for sure. For 27 years now, the union has been a very important part of my life.”
He added, “I’m pleased to have been able to attend many programs and courses to help me further my skills and increase my knowledge of all aspects of my career. I enjoy upgrading, as it gives me a chance to meet more of my sea brothers and sisters, as well as spending time talking to and mentoring new trainees.”
After listing the numerous reasons he’s stayed a union mariner, Cedeno offered up his sincere thanks: “I have much gratitude for all the hard work and dedication our union leadership has demonstrated in protecting our jobs. They’ve also provided us with elite maritime training and education, which leads me into thanking the instructors and staff here at the school. Thank you for all your commitment and hard work. Muchas Gracias!”
He closed by offering some words of encouragement, which he attributed as quotes from Manpower Director Bart Rogers, who also serves as PHC assistant vice president.
Victor R. Nunez
Nunez was the last to speak, and handled the task masterfully. He joined the SIU in 1991 in Puerto Rico, though he now sails out of Baltimore.
He said, “I would like to begin by thanking those that made this opportunity possible, and helped me to stand here today. At the age of 21, I joined the SIU through the trainee program in Class 467 here at Piney Point. In the past 28 years, I’ve been able to perform in various capacities, from ordinary seaman to AB, as a the port agent in Puerto Rico, to finally sailing as a bosun.”
He then spoke briefly about the struggle of growing up in Puerto Rico, before coming to the SIU with literal holes in his shoes: “Joining the SIU changed my life completely. The union not only put shoes on my feet, but made me who I am today: a better man, a better father and a better human being. With the opportunities afforded to me by the union, I was able to raise three beautiful children, and accomplish many of my lifelong dreams and goals.”
Nunez continued, “The past two weeks have been a great experience for me, returning here to Piney Point. I couldn’t have asked for better classsmates. This is the biggest accomplishment in my career. We’ve made it to the top!”
He then thanked the union officials, saying, “Brothers and sisters, they make the magic happen. They make these jobs that we see on the boards every day, and enable us to be able to provide for our families and enjoy all the benefits we have. But, as they have the responsibility to protect our jobs by fighting the constant political battles, we also have the responsibility to play our role by exercising our right to vote, by getting involved in elections, and continuing to donate to SPAD.”
He concluded with an appropriate inspirational quote: “Shoot for the moon, because if you fail, you will land among the stars.”
Bosuns Offer Apprentices Advice
During their speeches, the newly recertified bosuns offered words of wisdom to the Paul Hall Center apprentices in attendance at the ceremony. Following are excerpts from the bosuns’ respective presentations.
“Brothers and sisters, your SPAD contributions are vitally important for the growth of the SIU and this membership, and for you trainees, if you haven’t felt it yet, I believe you will soon know: The SIU is, truly, the Brotherhood of the Sea.”
“Aloha! Study hard while you’re here. Learn from your instructors, and learn to work together with your classmates. When you get out to sea, work hard, carry your load, and never be afraid to ask questions. Be safe and be true to the course in which you are already steering towards.”
“Trainees, please go back to the fleet with an open mind and a strong back. Remember, you are portraying an image much larger than your own. This union is your future and you are the future of the union.”
“Study hard while you’re here. This is it; you are already in. Learn as much as you can from your teachers. Learn to work together with your classmates, and stayfocused. When you get out to sea, challenge yourself, and have faith in yourself. Believe me, if I can do it, I know you can do it as well. Be a good worker, carry your load, never give up, and never be afraid to ask questions.”
Modesto Y. Rabena Jr.
“Study hard, learn, work together, and when you get on a ship and go to sea, work hard and climb the ladder. This is a great start for your future.”
Josephus O. Willis
“You have made the right choice in choosing this career, and to be a part of this great union. Not everyone gets to build their career from an early age, and earn all the benefits the union provides for us and our families. Work hard and make the right choices, whether you’re on a ship or on vacation. You are the future of this union.”
“Study hard while you’re here. This is your job, and you’ve got to make it last.”
“An old wise man – well, he wasn’t old at the time – once told me, ‘Kid, keep your nose clean, do what you’re told, stay out of trouble, and you will go far in this business.’ For 30 years, I have not forgotten that piece of advice.”
Eugene Perez Jr.
“I encourage you to have the will to succeed. Learn from your instructors, and when you get out to sea, never be afraid to ask questions.”
“Trust me when I say, we are the greatest union ever! You are the future of the SIU, and together we need to help our union leadership protect our industry and our jobs. So, how do we make this happen? Simple: do your part. Upgrade your skills, put in the hard work and help support what we all believe in.”
John D. Cedeno Jr.
“You are the future of the SIU. You should feel special for sitting here today, and having this opportunity in your hands. Feel proud, represent the union, and when you get out there, work hard and stand tall. Do what you love, and love what you do, and you will never work.”
Victor R. Nunez