Despite facing unprecedented challenges caused by the global COVID-19 pandemic, the labor movement not only answered the call but also made significant strides, said the leader of the Maritime Trades Department (MTD).
MTD President Michael Sacco, who also serves as SIU president, credited rank-and-file members and their unions with living up to their designation as part of the country’s “essential workforce.” Sacco expressed that sentiment in his opening remarks June 9 in Philadelphia, site of the MTD’s quadrennial convention.
“Some of you may remember that we were just a week or so away from our 2020 executive board meetings when the pandemic basically overwhelmed North America,” Sacco said. “It’s no exaggeration to say that life hasn’t been the same since then. But we survived, we adapted and we learned.
“Do you know what else we did?” he continued. “We delivered! Our members delivered. Our unions delivered. Obviously, there is nothing good about the COVID pandemic itself – but a lot of important things have happened since we had to cancel those meetings in 2020.”
Sacco, who was reelected to his position later during the convention, reminded the audience of a period when “you couldn’t find toilet paper or hand sanitizer on the store shelves” and when a runaway-flag ship became stuck in the Suez Canal in 2021.
“That’s when people outside our industry began to understand the importance of maritime,” he said. “That’s when the term ‘supply chain’ started to become part of everyday news coverage.” The growing awareness of the industry’s importance – starting with the significance of workers themselves – can only help bolster the U.S. Merchant Marine and American shipbuilding, Sacco stated. “
Additionally, people across the United States are realizing the value of their work – and they’re waking up to the fact that the best way to get what they deserve is by forming or joining a union,” he added. “Our approval ratings are at historic highs. Our publicity is almost nonstop. Workers have won union elections at Starbucks and Amazon, two of the nation’s most high-profile employers. Workers at some Apple stores are also mobilizing for union representation.” He then welcomed delegations from International Longshoremen’s Association; the Marine Engineers’ Beneficial Association; and the American Federation of Teachers. Those respective unions affiliated with the MTD since the department’s previous convention.
The MTD president also touched on his pandemic-era experiences with online connectivity, and in particular web meetings.
“It’s amazing how quickly it became part of everyday life,” he said. “What I’ve learned about technology is that it can be a double-edged sword. There is no doubt it can increase efficiency and save money. And there is no doubt that we also lose something if our only interactions with each other are on a computer screen. That’s not an old-school sentiment. It’s a human sentiment.”
Like other speakers, Sacco also said it will be vital for workers and their unions “to make sure we’re using online connectivity – and technology in general – to enhance workplaces and to boost productivity while still preserving the relationships that are built over time, in person…. Again, I’m not looking to turn back the clock. But it’s up to us to harness the technology and put it to good use.”
Lastly, he noted, “Whatever your personal political views, I hope you recognize that the Biden administration is well on its way to being the most pro-union administration ever. Not only that, the president himself has been an outspoken supporter of American maritime, starting in his first week in office. We’ve made great strides under his leadership, and we’ve also got lots of opportunities for more progress.”