Facility Hailed as Big Upgrade for Seafarers and Their Families
For a Facebook album from the event, click HERE
After many years of stalled attempts, the SIU was more than happy to officially open the new hiring hall in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Nov. 8 with an event that included food, drinks and a live band.
“Welcome to your brand-new SIU union hall,” SIU Port Agent Amancio Crespo began, before being interrupted by cheers and applause from the more than 150 members, elected officials, company executives and guests gathered outside the building for the ceremony.
The new facility, located at 659 Hillside Street in the Summit Hills neighborhood of San Juan, is immaculate, with all-new furniture in multiple member lounge areas, wheelchair-accessible restrooms, a modern galley and mess area, WiFi access and a second-floor conference room. Most importantly, it’s in a safe and secure neighborhood – a huge improvement from the previous hall.
The SIU was represented at the event by Executive Vice President Augie Tellez, Secretary-Treasurer David Heindel, Vice President Contracts George Tricker, Vice President Gulf Coast Dean Corgey and Port Agents Pat Vandegrift and Crespo. Also in attendance were Seafarers Plans Administrator Maggie Bowen and SIU Chief Counsel Leslie Tarantola.
After an invocation by San Juan resident AB John Telles, Crespo’s daughter Amanda led the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance.
Carlos Romero Barceló, lifelong politician and friend of the SIU, was the next to speak. Barceló reflected on his long history of supporting unions, before talking about the current state of maritime for Puerto Rico: “There is so much misinformation spread about the Jones Act, and it’s spread by leaders in the House and Senate. They say, ‘We cannot compete with shipping in other parts of the Caribbean, Central and South America because we have to ship on American ships.’ But wait a minute. Walk down to the docks, and see where the Japanese cars come in. Do they have a Japanese flag on their mast or not? Of course they have a Japanese flag on them, they come from Japan! There’s no limitation whatsoever on shipping from a U.S. port to a non-U.S. port, they can be any flagged vessel.
“But the shipping rule, as so many other countries have, is that if you go from one port in a country to another port in the same country, you need to be flagged in that country and not a foreign vessel,” Barceló continued. “For political reasons, they keep attacking the shipping lines and saying lies about the shipping lines, so we have to tell the truth to the people.”
Next to speak was Hector Figueroa, Chief of Staff for the Office of Héctor Ferrer, Chair of the Puerto Rico Popular Democratic Party. Ferrer, who was a strong supporter of the maritime industry in Puerto Rico, unexpectedly passed away on Nov. 5. Figueroa’s speech was followed by a moment of silence in honor of Ferrer.
Corgey took the podium next, saying, “My hometown is Houston, Texas, and we got hit hard in 2017 by Hurricane Harvey. Right after that, you got hit hard down here [by Hurricane Maria]. And I’m pleased to report to you today, Houston is back, and let me tell you what I see here today – Puerto Rico is back.”
Corgey continued, “Leading the charge of that recovery is the maritime industry, there’s no question about it. And as far as who from the SIU is leading that charge, it is my good friend Amancio Crespo. I can’t say enough about Amancio. He was there 24 hours a day on the docks getting relief supplies in. Every member, every Puerto Rican resident that needed assistance, he was there. He worked himself to a ragged bone, he did everything he could – and in his spare time, he put this building together.”
He then introduced Tellez, who was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico. Tellez gave a rousing speech in Spanish, which he translated for the Seafarers LOG:
“Good morning and welcome to the christening of this beautiful new building. I bring you greetings and salutations from President Mike Sacco, who unfortunately could not be with us here today. It is a grand day for a grand building that’s new, clean, well-appointed and – most of all – safe for our entire SIU family and friends. This building exists in great part due to the hard work by Amancio Crespo. More importantly, he was at the same time committed to the tremendous effort of delivering water, food, supplies and hope to all those suffering the devastation of Hurricane Maria. So, to Amancio, his wife Maria, the companies and to all the members who joined in the relief effort, we give our thanks, our respect and a great round of applause.”
Heindel then spoke about the long road to the grand opening, saying, “We put up our old building for sale over 20 years ago. We started looking for a new facility, we found a few nice spots…. Finally, we found this little spot here. We said, ‘This has got a lot of possibilities.’ And as you’ll see, it’s a fantastic building, and it’ll be here for the next 30 years, I’m sure. It’s taken us a long time to get to this point, but thank God we are here today.”
Heindel continued, “This is an example of our commitment, not just to our membership here in Puerto Rico to provide a very safe and clean facility for them to conduct business in, but it’s also a commitment that the SIU has made to the Jones Act here in Puerto Rico.”
Seafarers Trustee Anthony Naccarato, who also spoke in Spanish, echoed many of the sentiments of the previous speakers, before Crespo’s wife Maria Gomez christened the new hall with a ceremonial champagne bottle break.
Recently retired Recertified Bosun Angel Perez, who attended the ceremony, praised the new facility, saying, “This is a blessing. The place is beautiful, clean, and the new Seafarers are going to love this place.”
Perez also noted how how the new hall – even under construction – was a safe haven during Hurricane Maria.
Corgey concluded by revealing the future of the old hiring hall building, saying, “We had some folks step up from Mobile, Alabama, who run a maritime ministry. They do a great job ministering to seafarers in trouble and need, and we gave them that old building. They are going to open a seafarers’ mission in the old building, and they’re going to go down there and do the Lord’s work in that neighborhood, get that neighborhood revitalized and back on its feet.”