Unions were undeterred during a 35-day federal government shutdown that ended in late January.
During that unprecedented closure, SIU members and officials as well as representatives from several port councils affiliated with the Maritime Trades Department, AFL-CIO, energetically supported many of the 800,000 employees who were either temporarily out of work or were told to work even though their paychecks weren’t forthcoming. The SIU and MTD teamed up with donations to fellow union members, Coast Guard personnel and other government workers. They also participated in demonstrations in the nation’s capital; in Honolulu, Hawaii; and elsewhere.
The SIU utilized its Disaster Aid Fund to assist members of the union’s Government Services Division who sail with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Many members relayed their thanks via emails to SIU Government Services Division Vice President Kate Hunt.
One member wrote, “Thank you! Can’t tell you how much this helps. It also helps remind folks that the rougher things are, the more they need the union.”
Another NOAA mariner said, “Thank you for supporting the members in this time of need!”
Honolulu was an especially active area for the SIU during the shutdown. The SIU hosted multiple food drives in addition to welcoming members of Congress for informal discussions. Those members included U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono (D), U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz (D), U.S. Rep. Ed Case (D) and U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D), who were on hand at the hiring hall Jan. 18 to listen to workers and discuss their concerns.
Many other labor organizations were involved in the effort in Hawaii, including the State AFL-CIO, AFGE, Teamsters Local 996, IBEW 1260, HGEA, MM&P, MEBA, MFOW, and the Hawaii Ports Maritime Council.
Seafarers in Oakland, California, put together a food drive for Coast Guard personnel, while the Greater South Florida Maritime Trades Council, SIU, Port Everglades Association and Port Everglades Pilots donated gift cards and other items to Coast Guard members in that area.
Although the threat of another shutdown in mid- February loomed as of press time, the AFL-CIO and many pundits credited rank-and-file workers and their unions for ending the longest federal stoppage in U.S. history. They cited major demonstrations across the country along with working people regularly contacting their elected representatives.
The federation noted, “After holding federal workers’ paychecks hostage for 35 days, President Donald Trump finally gave in to immense nationwide pressure and signed legislation to reopen the government on [Jan. 25]. As AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka (UMWA) said, ‘President Trump didn’t want to end this shutdown – the collective action of working people demanded it.’
The federation statement continued, “From the beginning of this manufactured crisis, working people throughout the labor movement and across the country have fought alongside our 1 million-plus brothers and sisters going without pay. From a massive rally and march in front of the AFLCIO’s headquarters to actions across the country, working people took to the streets to show our solidarity.
“We flooded the halls and lit up the phones of Congress, to make our voices heard by those responsible for this debacle,” the AFL-CIO pointed out. “We lifted up the stories of struggling workers and demanded that politicians do their jobs so we could do ours. As this shutdown dragged on – and as workers still wait for back pay – we stepped up to care for each other in a time of forced hardship.”
The AFL-CIO communication concluded, “By standing together, working people got each other through this shutdown. We mobilized, organized and proved the indispensable value of our labor to those who have tried to ignore us. Now we will fight for a long-term government funding bill and legislation to guarantee that all workers are made whole.”