An arbitrator on July 30 ruled in favor of the American Maritime Association’s (AMA) insistence that they can require all mariners sailing aboard the companies’ respective vessels be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
The SIU challenged the AMA’s mandate by demanding expedited arbitration, primarily because they unilaterally imposed it rather than bargain over its effects with the union.
AMA companies are signatory to the union’s standard freightship and tanker agreements. Those contracts specify that with these kinds of grievances, “the matter shall be referred to an impartial arbitrator whose decision shall be final and binding,” which means the union cannot appeal the decision.
In an Aug. 2 web post, the union said, “While we are disappointed in the arbitrator’s ruling, we aren’t necessarily surprised. Earlier in the week, the U.S. Department of Justice released an ‘opinion letter’ saying there’s nothing in federal law that prevents private-sector employers from requiring vaccines. That is consistent with other court decisions and developments across the country, both in the public and private sectors.”
At press time, details about how the AMA vaccine mandate will be implemented were still being worked out. Members are asked to keep an eye on the SIU website.
Among other points, the arbitrator said he based his decision on the unique nature of the maritime industry, including the fact that crews live together on the vessels. He cited the danger of the Delta variant, plus other recent legal rulings and opinions that support vaccination mandates. He emphasized that his decision aims to maximize safety, and also noted the complications and costs of having vessels quarantine when positive cases occur aboard ship. He acknowledged the sacrifices of mariners and their important roles as part of the essential workforce.
Many other companies – plus the U.S. Defense Department – also have either started enforcing vaccine mandates or informed employees that the requirements are imminent. Among others, the following businesses were requiring vaccines as of early August: Anthem (health insurance), Cisco Systems (tech company), DoorDash (corporate employees), Equinox (gym brand), Facebook, Frontier Airlines, Google, Microsoft, Morgan Stanley, the New York Times, Tyson Foods, Uber (corporate), United Airlines, Walgreens (corporate), Walt Disney, Walmart, and the Washington Post.
On Aug. 9, U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III issued a “memorandum for all Department of Defense employees.” In part, the memo read, “As many of you know, President Biden asked me to consider how and when we might add the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccines to the list of those required for all Service members. So, over the last week, I have consulted closely with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Secretaries of the Military Departments, the Service Chiefs, and medical professionals. I appreciate greatly the advice and counsel they provided.
“Based on these consultations and on additional discussions with leaders of the White House COVID Task Force, I want you to know that I will seek the President’s approval to make the vaccines mandatory no later than mid-September, or immediately upon the U.S. Food and Drug Agency (FDA) licensure, whichever comes first,” he continued. “By way of expectation, public reporting suggests the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine could achieve full FDA licensure early next month.”
The secretary added, “To defend this Nation, we need a healthy and ready force. I strongly encourage all DoD military and civilian personnel – as well as contractor personnel – to get vaccinated now and for military Service members to not wait for the mandate. All FDA-authorized COVID- 19 vaccines are safe and highly effective. They will protect you and your family. They will protect your unit, your ship, and your co-workers. And they will ensure we remain the most lethal and ready force in the world.”
During the August membership meeting in Piney Point, Maryland, SIU President Michael Sacco continued encouraging Seafarers to get vaccinated. It’s a position he has stood by since the vaccines received emergency-use authorization.
“It’s the safe way – the only way – to be in this industry,” Sacco stated. “I won’t steer you wrong.”
As of Aug. 9, nearly 36 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported in the United States since February 2020. Almost 617,000 Americans had died from the coronavirus during that same period.