SIU Vice President Government Services Division Kermett Mangram, 64, has called an end to his career with the union. He retired effective Aug. 31 following 40 years of dedicated service.
Mangram is only the second person to hold the Vice President Government Services Division post, which was created in 1985 shortly after the old Military Sea Transport Union merged into the SIU Atlantic, Gulf, Lakes and Inland Waters District following a vote by the membership. He succeeded the late Roy “Buck” Mercer, who retired in 1999. He also served as Atlantic Region vice president for the union-affiliated United Industrial Workers union and was a full member on the boards of trustees for the Seafarers Harry Lundeberg School of Seamanship, Seafarers Pension Plan, Seafarers Money Purchase Pension Plan and Seafarers Vacation Plan.
Officials at SIU headquarters, as well as several individuals with whom he worked during his career, all recognized Mangram as a valued member of the team and tremendous asset to the union.
“Kermett was one of the most detailed union officials whom I have had the pleasure of working with,” said SIU President Michael Sacco. “He was a very, very effective leader with a great personality.
“He represented the SIU membership with his heart and soul and always did his very best to look out for the little guy,” Sacco continued. “Kermett had a great personality and was a great soldier who was loyal to the labor movement and to working people. He was also extremely detailed in his approach to dealing with all situations; the kind of guy who dotted every I and crossed every T. That’s how good he was … very well-schooled and up to date on everything that was going on.
“Kermett was a tremendous asset to this organization and we are really going to miss him,” Sacco concluded.
“We’ve known each other since 1980, when we were in Brooklyn,” said SIU Executive Vice President Augie Tellez. “He’s been a steadfast union official, a good dispatcher and a good allaround representative for the members.
“Kermett is also a lifelong friend,” Tellez continued. “I’ve always introduced him as my brother from another mother.”
“Kermett’s presence will be missed,” said SIU Secretary-Treasurer David Heindel. “His knowledge of contracts and the shipping rules were impeccable. His love of life and learning of new cultures are his passion. He was an allaround great guy and respected by everyone he worked with.”
SIU Assistant Vice President Archie Ware described Mangram as a trusted friend and outstanding union official who would stop at nothing to help rank-and-file members. “He was a one of a kind union official,” Ware said. “I met Kermett in Piney Point shortly after he came ashore to become a union official. I was there upgrading in 1980 when our paths crossed. Since then we’ve been very close.
“Over the years, his every action has been all about the welfare of the union’s rank-andfile membership,” Ware said. “He always went above and beyond to help them. I know from personal experience because he has been there for me on more than a few occasions.
“While he was in Norfolk, I was in Houston and San Francisco,” Ware said. “Kermett used to train me over phone about the behind the scenes operations of the union and how things got done…distance learning if you will. I’ll always be grateful to him for that because it made a tremendous difference in my life.
“Kermett did a lot of good things for so many people,” Ware concluded. “He will always be a very dear friend of mine.”
Norfolk Port Agent Georg Kenny’s tenure with Mangram goes back to a time when he himself was going to sea.
“I’ve known Kermett for over 30 years,” Kenny said. “It all began when Brooklyn was headquarters. Maureen (his wife) and I were sailing on the black hulls, the M/V Hague to be specific. Kermett always greeted us back at the hall with a big smile. He made us happy to be home, like family. But, that’s the SIU way.”
He continued, “Kermett grew up in the SIU with great leaders and mentors–our forefathers Paul Hall, Joe DiGiorgio, Angus “Red” Campbell, Leon Hall and Carolyn Gentile–the people who taught him how to become an educated, effective, just and strong representative of the union.
“With Kermett it always was about the members,” Kenny said. “Of all the aforementioned mentors, it was Red who Kermett had the most passion for; it was he who drilled the union constitution and shipping rules into his head.
“Kermett often spoke of having spent hours with Red after the hall closed, mesmerized with his knowledge and history, of the union,” Kenny added. “Many a captain rued the day when Kermett walked up the gangway to handle a beef, for he played to win, so they lost after he cited the article and sections of the CBA to support his argument. The members won and loved him, grateful he was their advocate.”
Kenny concluded, “Although Kermett and I didn’t always agree (he would say I had issues), it did not matter because he was my brother and that’s how family is. But in tough times, we each had the other’s back. That’s the concept of the Brotherhood of the Sea.”
“It was truly a great experience working with Kermett,” said Port of Norfolk Safety Director Sam Spain. “He has always been a man of fairness, integrity, and honesty. Kermett always put the welfare of the members first and worked on whatever issues they brought to him until they were completely resolved. During my 16 years of working with and being trained by Kermett, he took a no non-sense approach to his teaching method: to always follow the contract, treat members with compassion and respect, and put the union first.
“His knowledge of the union has been extremely valuable in sharpening my skills as union representative,” Spain concluded. “The staff he put together in the Norfolk hall will miss him greatly. God bless and keep him and we all wish him a wonderful retirement.”
“I started working at SIU hall in Norfolk in August 2009 and I have truly enjoyed working with and for Kermett,” said Port of Norfolk Secretary Shelia Burton. “Under his leadership, I’ve learned a lot and felt comfortable in my job here at SIU.
“Kermett truly cares about the membership and his employees,” she continued. “He is a detail-oriented person and continually stressed that we as members of his staff must be as knowledgeable as he was regarding union affairs. His goal was always to make life better for us all, especially the membership. He will surely be missed.”
Mangram, who hails from Jacksonville, Florida, graduated from Florida A&M University in 1977 with a degree in business administration. He joined the union after being unable to find suitable employment elsewhere.
“I had a number of family members who were in the National Maritime Union,” he recalled. “And before going off to college, I tried to join the NMU but was unsuccessful. This was largely because none of them offered any assistance toward getting me in.
“My sister was married to a member of the SIU at the time,” Mangram continued. “I remember him coming home when I was working in a local business as a manager. He came home with a check for about $700 in his pocket. He had left on a Friday and the following Monday was a holiday; so, he came by Monday night with that check.
“I remember thinking long and hard about that check because I had worked the whole week and only received about $80 dollars,” he said. “So, I went to work the next day and I quit. I asked him (sister’s husband) to take me to the union hall. I eventually ended up at Piney Point and the rest is history. That was in 1978.”
Mangram is a graduate of Class 259 from the Seafarers Harry Lundeberg School of Seamanship in Piney Point, Maryland. His first assignment was aboard the Sea-Land Seattleas a steward assistant. “I received the same basic training as most Seafarers still receive today,” recalled Mangram. “That included firefighting, water survival, first aid, CPR, industrial relations and social responsibilities aboard ships.
“The training I received at the school thoroughly prepared me for the complexities of my first job aboard ship – that of washing dishes,” Mangram continued with a chuckle. “I really had that part down to a science. I must admit though, that I was not prepared for many of the social tribulations that I experienced aboard ship during my early days of going to sea.
“Clashes among crew members were commonplace back in those days and there’s no doubt in my mind that many of them were racially motivated,” Mangram said. “I admit that I had my share of them, but I never blamed the union for that; I still don’t. I blamed the people who caused the incidents in the first place.
“Back in those days, the concepts of teamwork and brotherhood across racial lines were in their infancy aboard vessels,” he continued. “But thanks be to God and the union’s modern leadership, it’s not like that anymore. There’s definitely more camaraderie among rank-and-file members aboard ship today, compared to when I joined.”
Mangram’s shipboard career included voyages aboard the Sea-Land Seattle, Sea-Land Tampa, Sea-Land Akawai, Delta Uruguay and Point Revere. Although he worked mostly in the steward department, he also sailed in the deck department, where he achieved the rate of ABM.
“The Point Revere was my last and perhaps worst ship that I worked on during my career,” Mangram said. “We were not being treated very well as a crew in a number of ways. The thing that really got next to me though was the officers were taking away our overtime despite the fact that we had worked. That happened on a number of occasions, and that for me was the last straw. I knew then that I wanted to do whatever I could to prevent other members from having to endure this type of treatment.
“Like I said earlier, I did not blame the union for things that happened to me at sea because the SIU had always been in my corner,” he continued. “As a matter of fact, my oldest daughter was born while I was at sea. At birth, she had respiratory issues and by the time she was four years of age, had been hospitalized 48 times. The union paid all of her bills; I did not have to pay anything.”
Eager to help fellow Seafarers, he came ashore in 1980 as a union education instructor at the Paul Hall Center. He became a patrolman in the port of New York in 1981, then port agent there in 1987. Mangram was named assistant vice president for contracts and contract enforcement by the executive board in 1992. He was reelected to the post in 1996.
“The guy who really opened the doors for me to get into the union was Frank Mongelli,” Mangram said. “I learned a great deal from him, including his advice that once a member showed you his/her membership book, that was really all you need to know.
“One of the smartest people I ever met during my career was Red Campbell and I thank him for everything he taught me,” he continued. “The same goes for Leon Hall who taught me that as a union official, you could either be someone who hurt people or someone who helped them. I always tried to be that person who helped my people.”
“There’s one other person I’d like to mention who really made a difference in my life and career,” Mangram said. “His name was Johnny Yarmola, an SIU official whom I met about eight weeks after joining the union.
“When we met, my spirits were really down because my grandfather had just passed away. I guess it showed in my face because right away, he asked me what was wrong. I told him about my grandfather and the fact that I did not have the money needed to make my way home. Johnny told me that he’d see me the following day. The next day, he gave me a round trip ticket to go home … that was the last time I ever saw him, so I never got the chance properly thank him or let him know the full impact of what he did for me.
“That was a long time ago, but I’ve never forgotten Johnny’s goodwill gesture. I thank him for it as well as the influence it has had on my life since.”
When asked to appraise his career, Mangram said his greatest accomplishment as an official was the assistance he provided rank-and-file members. “I feel that I helped a lot of people –especially in the Norfolk area – get off to a good start in their lives and position themselves to provide for and help their families. For me, it was always about the rank-and-file members,” he said.
Mangram said his proudest moment as a union official came in 2008 when SIU President Sacco backed Barack Obama in his bid to become president of the United States. “I can’t express my profound gratitude toward Mike for his stance on this,” he said. “I was proud to serve by his side because he was the first SIU president to back an African American for president, to become leader of the free world. It’s something that I never thought I’d witness in my life.”
On the opposing side of the spectrum, Mangram shared his most painful experience of his time with the SIU. “Perhaps the saddest thing to happen in my career has to do with the here and now. Due to personal reasons, I was not able to say farewell,” he said. “I had to leave so hastily that I did not get the chance to say goodbye to all the good people that I have met along the way, people of all creeds and social backgrounds whose lives I have impacted and those who have impacted mine. For that, I am truly sorry.”
With respect to the union’s future, Mangram said he sees it as bright and promising. “The sky is the limit for the SIU and its membership if we stay true to course,” he said. “The keys to that success will be continued strong leadership, attention to detail and a constant state of preparedness on the part of rank-and-file members, including their continued contributions to SPAD.
“I believe that security and automation will be huge players in our industry going forward and that more and more, people will have to educate themselves in order to keep pace and be successful,” he said. “It’s imperative that rankand- file members upgrade frequently, study hard, do their very best work while aboard ships and always strive to be great shipmates by treating others the way they would want to be treated.”
Aside from concentrating on an extremely extensive “honey do” list, Mangram said he has no immediate retirement plans. “I’ll stay busy doing projects around the house that I have been putting off,” he said. “In the meantime, I wish all of the brothers, sisters and companies smooth sailing.”