The Seafarers International Union of North America (SIUNA) conducted its 2022 Quinquennial Convention online, under the theme “Building for the Future.”
Hosted in Piney Point, Maryland, the event took place Sept. 14 and included approximately 60 delegates and guests who connected online from across the U.S. and Canada. AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler delivered the keynote address via a video that had been recorded the previous day (see separate story).
Delegates elected the following officers for five-year terms in office: President Michael Sacco, Secretary-Treasurer David Heindel, and Vice Presidents Paul Doell, Jeff Richards, Nicole Walsh, Anthony Poplawski, Dave Connolly, Tom Orzechowski, Nick Celona, Dean Corgey, Nick Marrone, Joseph Soresi, Augie Tellez, George Tricker, Pat Vandegrift, Jim Given, Marcus Woodring, Monte Burgett, Karen Horton-Gennette and Laura Lopez.
They also passed resolutions addressing automation and the future of work; the supply chain; grassroots political action and voter turnout; the Jones Act; crew changes; the PRO Act; opposing a proposed second register in the U.S. Virgin Islands; wind energy; Union Plus; cargo preference laws; support for our troops and veterans; appreciation for the Biden Administration’s backing of unions and the maritime industry; support for Shuler and AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Fred Redmond; and a remembrance of many who’ve passed away since the prior convention.
The proceedings also featured reports from individual SIUNA affiliates and from the various committees (who also met online the previous day).
In his opening remarks, Sacco stated, “Our convention theme is ‘Building for the Future,’ and that’s exactly what we’re doing. It’s probably most obvious in the wind-energy sector, which I believe will be a major source of jobs for many of our affiliates. We’ve been laying the groundwork for those opportunities for quite a while, and the jobs aren’t too far off on the horizon.”
He continued, “Our efforts definitely go beyond wind energy, of course. The SIUNA and our affiliates continue to work with our contracted companies, our allies throughout the labor movement and our political representatives to stand up for our members. That means doing everything possible to make sure they have good contracts; the training they need; a voice in the workplace; job security; and a bright future.”
He then encouraged the affiliates to boost voter turnout and to “support candidates who’ll support working families, regardless of political party.”
Throughout the convention, the COVID- 19 global pandemic was part of every report. Sacco pointed out that the pandemic “has affected all of our affiliates, and definitely not always in the same ways. For some, there are jobs that disappeared and still haven’t come back. For others, the term ‘essential workers’ took on new meaning and often meant extended hours and extended tours. For the most part, I think we’ve all done an excellent job weathering the storm, delivering the goods and standing up for our members.” He touched on the state of organized labor, noting a number of recent high-profile organizing victories and an unprecedented level of public support for unions.
Regarding the maritime industry, Sacco said he believes it is “heading in the right direction, but we all know the battles never end. We’re currently in a very serious fight about cargo preference laws, and we’re doing everything possible to educate Congress and preserve American maritime jobs. We had manpower challenges even before the pandemic, and as many of you know, those have only grown.
“Otherwise, we’ve made significant gains by securing the new Tanker Security Program, an American-flag cable fleet, and full funding for the Maritime Security Program,” he added. “And, as mentioned, we’re also getting in on the ground floor to secure good union jobs in the wind-energy sector. I think we’re in good shape overall. We’ve got a very worker-friendly administration and we’ve got plenty of opportunities to get things done.”
While much of the convention focused on pandemic-related challenges along with workplaces of the future, the SIUNA International Affairs Committee pointed out the ongoing issue of crew abandonment.
“Historically, this is an under-reported issue, and yet we know of more than 70 such cases in 2021 alone, almost always involving so-called flag-of-convenience or runway-flag ships,” the committee wrote. “According to the International Maritime Organization, the total number of cases that were recorded from 2004 to 2020 was nearly 500 and involved almost 6,000 seafarers. As noted by the IMO, ‘Seafarer abandonment is a serious problem that can blight the lives of those caught up in it. It must be tackled and it needs continual cooperation, not just between the IMO and ILO and non-governmental organizations devoted to seamen’s welfare, but with flag states, port states and other industry groups, too. We all have a duty to protect seafarers.’”