Six SIU members recently achieved milestones in their respective careers by ascending the uppermost rung of the steward department’s upgrading ladder. They etched their names in SIU history May 6 during the union’s monthly membership meeting in Piney Point, Maryland, when they graduated from the Paul Hall Center’s (PHC) steward recertification program.
Completing the three-week curriculum were: Rocky Dupraw, Fakhruddin Malahi, Ali Munsar, Robert Owens, Frank Ramones and Angela Robertson. Regarded as the school’s top steward department curriculum, the course covers a wide range of topics including computer technology, social responsibilities, leadership, Coast Guard updates, baking skills and other department-specific workshops on sanitation, nutrition and more. The course also offers insights on collective bargaining agreements, functions of the various departments within both the SIU and the Seafarers Plans, and the union’s affiliations with the Maritime Trades Department and its parent group, the AFL-CIO.
In keeping with tradition, each of the newly minted recertified stewards addressed those in attendance at the membership meeting. During their presentations, they discussed their respective careers and offered valuable insights to the apprentices. They also expressed gratitude for the opportunities they have been afforded to enhance their skills, improve their lives and those of their families, and become better shipmates to their brothers and sisters aboard SIU-contracted vessels. Collectively, they also thanked the union leadership for its continued support, and the PHC vocational and hotel staffs for providing excellent instruction and accommodations, respectively.
Following are highlights of the graduation speeches (in chronological order), supplemented in some cases by written comments submitted to the LOG.
Ramones was first to take the podium. A native of the Philippines, he signed on with the SIU in Honolulu and has been sailing since 1993. Currently, he sails out of the port of Oakland, California.
“It is an honor and privilege to stand before you today,” Ramones said. “I am so honored to be a part of something so special. To be [selected to attend] recertification training is one of the greatest and sweetest moments of my life.
“I just want to say thank you, Lord, for everything that you have done for me,” he continued.
“Thank you for guiding me throughout my journey, and I know you will continue to guide me.” Ramones said that being a Seafarer has really changed his life. “It’s not just a profession, but also a way of life that demands a great deal of passion and service,” he said, adding that although he had encountered some minor setbacks along the way, ultimately, he was able to put everything into proper perspective and find true happiness in his career.
“To the SIU, thank you for the opportunity that you gave me. I might not be who I am today if not for your endless support,” he said. Ramones sent a shout out to the officials in his home port of Oakland. “Thank you for believing in me and my talent,” he said.
Turning to the PHC personnel, Ramones acknowledged the school administrators, faculty members and steward department chefs who helped him time and again during his training. “They never got tired of giving me their full support, sharing their techniques and imparting their knowledge,” Ramones said. “I want to thank Miss Jeri Draper, our computer instructor, who also was very helpful and kind…. She brought out the best in me.
“To the trainees, enjoy your stay but study hard, learn as a team and listen to your instructors while you are here,” he said. “Never be afraid to ask questions when you go on your first ship; one day you will be the best at your profession.”
Ramones closed by reflecting on his early days as a Seafarer, and on his daughter. At a younger age, she “could not understand why I needed to go back to the ship; it tore me apart every time I had to say goodbye to her,” he shared. “Thanks to this union and your trust in me, she is now a degree holder. To all of you, I am grateful. God Bless everyone, Mahalo!”
Dupraw was a member of PHC Lifeboat Class 646 and went through the training program in 2003. He currently sails from the port of Jacksonville, Florida; however, he has also shipped out of the ports of Oakland and Piney Point. He thanked all hands at each of these ports for providing him with quality service while he was among their ranks.
“I came through the training program when I was 24,” he told those in the audience. “My first ship was the El Yunque, my most recent was the John Page.” Dupraw added that to date, he had visited more than 35 countries while sailing aboard at least 25 union-contracted vessels. “I have come to realize the world is a beautiful place,” he said.
Reflecting on his recertification training, Dupraw said that during the prior few weeks, he was afforded the opportunity to meet and sit down with all of the faces behind the names of people who currently occupy key positions at union headquarters and at the PHC. “And the one thing that I’ve noticed is everyone’s strong passion for the SIU,” he said. “It’s their love for labor that convinces me that we as a membership are in good hands. And it all starts with leadership. With that being said, I thank our executive board for dedicating their lives to the SIU. They fight for us daily, not only in Washington D.C., but also worldwide. That is why SPAD is so important. SPAD gives us a voice; it gives us a seat at the table to help push our agenda, which is protecting our jobs. A wise man once told me: If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.”
Dupraw said that in addition to supporting SPAD, it’s also important for union members to get involved in their hiring halls’ local activities. “I want you to remember that it’s not what your union can do for your but what you can do for your union,” he said.
Dupraw offered heartfelt words for the school’s instructors and staff. “Thank you for treating me like family,” he said. “Special thanks to the culinary department. These men and women have provided me with the recipe to be successful.
“To the trainees, when you get on the ship, pay attention to details and learn your trade,” Dupraw said. “If there’s a question, ask! We are here to help. Educate yourselves, take your sea project seriously and come back and upgrade as often as you can. Remember, stay safe out there and enjoy the ride!” He also encouraged the trainees to regularly read the union’s official newspaper (Seafarers LOG) and attend union meetings. “This is where you get your best information,” he said.
In closing, Dupraw once again acknowledged the union for giving him the opportunity to provide a better quality of life for himself and his family. He also sent a special recognition to someone near and dear to his heart: his wife. “Thanks to my wife for supporting me in my career,” he said. “It’s not easy being a sailor’s spouse.”
Malahi is home-ported in Oakland and joined the SIU in 1996.
“I came from a [long] line of family members who were in unions,” Malahi said as he addressed the audience. “My uncles were in the SIU during the 1960s, 70s and 80s; they got me in the union. My father was also a union member, too.
“I enjoy sailing,” Malahi continued. “I have been on most of the Asian runs and also to all West Coast ports. But more importantly, I like our union and what it has accomplished for its members and the jobs it has provided. I want to thank President Mike Sacco and the executive board for giving me this opportunity and for building a strong union.”
He described the recertification program as “an eye-opening experience. I learned more about contracts, pensions, and the day-to-day operations of the union. I send my thanks the PHC staff and the instructors for all that they did for me.
“I also found out about the importance of SPAD donations,” he said. “In a way, it’s the backbone of the union because our leadership uses it to help keep jobs and secure our futures.”
Malahi advised the upgraders and apprentices to unfailingly give their best while at sea. “Always give all you got and continue to make the SIU a strong force in the maritime industry,” he concluded.
Robertson hails from the port of Norfolk, Virginia, and was a member of PHC Class 490. She signed on with the union in 1991 and previously has upgraded her skills on five occasions at the PHC.
“I feel privileged to be a part of such a strong union – a union that gives me stability, strength and hope for the future,” she said upon taking the podium. “The SIU enabled me to provide a good way of life for my daughter, who has graduated from Norfolk State University.”
Robertson told the audience that during her career, she has encountered a myriad of challenges. “Some of them I wanted to face, others I did not. I often told myself, I can do it, I can do it … and I did. It’s been a long road but I persevered,” she said, “carrying with me these three words: believe, achieve and succeed.”
Robertson then expressed her gratitude to the union leadership and the PHC personnel: “To the instructors and staff, all of you have gone above and beyond. President Sacco, executive board members and port agents, all of your hard work and dedication to the union have never gone unnoticed. Thank You!”
Commenting on her training, she said, “In the past three weeks, I’ve consumed so much knowledge. I will leave here today with a better understanding of how the union works. I look forward to sharing this knowledge with my shipmates.
“To my daughter, you have been there from day one,” she added. “We shared a lot of laughs, tears and goodbyes. Your understanding heart never ceases to amaze me. Thank you! To my husband, thank you for taking my hand, for understanding me and joining the ride.”
Robertson told the trainees to always believe in themselves: “Set your goals high, higher than one would ever think imaginable. Further educate yourselves and volunteer some of your free time to a good cause and donate to SPAD.
“You are the future,” she concluded. “Remember, we stand strong as one!”
Munsar became a Seafarer in 2001, signing on in San Francisco. He sails out of the port of Oakland. His father was a Seafarer, as were eight other members of his family. Prior to being a member of his recertification class, Munsar upgraded his skills at the PHC on six previous instances.
“The union has been important in my life,” he told his brothers and sisters in the audience. “It supports my family by allowing me to make a good living. With the help of the SIU, I have sailed around the world, which helped me to learn many new things.”
Munsar had words of praise for the PHC’s instructors and staff for being there during his training. “I really want to thank all the instructors and all the staff at the school, including the library staff, for all the hard work that they do,” he stated. “Piney Point is an awesome maritime school for Seafarers and trainees because it gives them the opportunity to improve their lives for themselves and their families.
“I also want to thank the union leadership for all the hard work they do on behalf of the membership,” he continued. “They protect our jobs and our industry.”
In closing, he encouraged everyone in the audience to do their part to preserve the union by donating to SPAD and voting in national elections. He urged the trainees present to study hard while in school and to learn all they could from their instructors.
Owens was the final recertified steward to address the audience. A native of Birmingham, Alabama, he signed on with the SIU in 1994 in the port of Mobile after a 10-year stint in the U.S. Navy. Home-ported in Houston, Owens resides in Ft. Worth, Texas.
“I have been part of the SIU for 25 years and sailed the world twice over,” he said. “The union has been important in my life and has allowed me and my family to live a most beautiful life.” Reflecting on his career as a mariner, Owens acknowledged a number of people who made lasting contributions to him along the way. “I thank all who have given me the opportunity to grow as a mariner,” he said. “This includes Bonnie Johnson from manpower who first shipped me, to all the great instructors and staff who had a hand in my training and development, my union hall which has supported me and fellow brothers and sisters who have guided me along the way.
“I also extend a heartfelt thank you to President Sacco and the union leadership for their hard work and dedication in keeping our union strong, and securing and protecting our jobs,” Owens added.
Turning to his upgrading experience, Owens offered: “My steward recertification training was truly an eye-opening experience. It provided me with an in-depth perspective on how the union as a whole operates and the dedicated people who keep this well-oiled machine running. The information I received on contracts, medical benefits, pensions and the money purchase plan will prove invaluable when I return to the ship and interact with my shipmates.”
Owens told the audience that while the union’s officials do a great job in all respects, they still need assistance from the rank-and-file. “The leadership needs our help,” he said. “We need to donate to SPAD so our leadership can continue to work for us. I’ve seen firsthand how SPAD donations keep both our jobs secure and our industry safe. I ask you to continue your SPAD donations.”
In closing, Owens addressed the trainees. “To the apprentices, I challenge each of you to be the very best mariner you can be. Learn your job, carry your load and make the union proud.
“It’s up to you to take our union to higher heights,” he concluded. “You are our future; you are the SIU!”