SIU boatmen employed by Galveston, Texas-based G&H Towing have overwhelmingly approved a three-year contract featuring wage gains and other improvements.
The pact, which also maintains benefits, covers more than 300 SIU members. Voting took place Sept. 1-5, and the agreement was approved by a 9:1 ratio.
SIU Vice President Gulf Coast Dean Corgey stated, “The key to this contract is that the SIU and G&H Towing company have a longstanding relationship that is excellent. We’ve shown the industry how working together on national and local politics, recruiting, manning and good-faith bargaining has a positive outcome for all parties.”
Representing the SIU during negotiations (which primarily took place for several days in August) were Assistant Vice President Mike Russo, Patrolman J.B. Niday, Mate Cameron Schroeder, Capt. Mark Kazin, Capt. John Gunning, Chief Engineer Howard Cook and Oiler Steve Prendergast. The company negotiators included Steve Huttman, Elaine Lauzon and Xavier Valverde.
G&H operates nearly 40 harbor tugs in Houston, Galveston, Texas City, Corpus Christi and Freeport. The company expects to add up to a dozen more boats.
The rank-and-file members who served on the bargaining committee said negotiations went well, and the end result is a collective bargaining agreement that was met with enthusiasm by fellow boatmen. In addition to the yearly wage increases, the contract calls for paid parental leave; maintains medical and pension benefits; further secures vocational training opportunities; successfully addresses some issues pertaining to vacation and sick leave; and offers bonuses for engine room personnel.
“I’m excited about the contract and the membership was, too,” stated Cook, who had served on one other bargaining committee while working at G&H. “The whole demeanor of the negotiations went well. Mike and J.B. – I can’t say enough about those guys. They did a fantastic job and they treated us very well, too.”
Kazin said, “I definitely think it was a good contract. This is our best wage increase since 1998…. I’m proud of what we accomplished.”
He added that as a first-time member of the bargaining team, “It was definitely a learning experience and a good experience.”
Similarly, Schroeder hadn’t previously been part of contract negotiations. “I really enjoyed it,” he said. “It was a great learning experience, and I wouldn’t mind doing it again.”
Schroeder said the addition of paternity/ maternity leave is “a step in the right direction. Some people won’t be able to use it, but I think for a company that’s getting younger, it’ll definitely be a huge deal and people will be thankful for it. Adding new things to the contract is always big.”
Likewise, Gunning pointed to the new benefit as well as the wage gains as contract highlights. “The newborn leave is a really interesting and great development,” he said. “In terms of overall money, I think we did extraordinarily well.”
He, too, was a first-time negotiator. “It was very different than what I had imagined,” Gunning said. “It all went very smooth, and in in a really positive direction.”
Prendergast took a big-picture view of the contract and the company. He expressed confidence in G&H’s growth and new management, and pointed out business is thriving in the Port of Houston (and doing well in other Texas ports).
“I’m optimistic about the future because of the direction the maritime industry is going,” said Prendergast, who also served on the union bargaining team for the prior contract in 2015.
Russo said the negotiations “went really well, and the delegates did a heck of a job. We took no monetary losses, and where the company had things that they wanted, we were able to reach compromises that were agreeable. Everybody was professional and respectful; we hammered out an agreement in record time, and that’s due in no small part to the outstanding work of our rank-and-file delegates.”
Corgey added that G&H crews have been represented by the SIU dating back to the mid-20th century. Further, four of the five union officials based at the Houston hiring hall have worked at G&H at some point.
“The roots run deep,” Corgey said. “Everybody realizes that we’re going to get a lot more done working together, and the key for the members is stability. Our members can plan on a future for their family budgets, their retirement. They can look forward to a nice, stable occupation and they can also look forward to a secure retirement. After all, none of this can happen without the boatmen and women; they’re the best in the business.”.