Promoting Our Union and Our Industry
The SIU had an outstanding turnout March 30 as our industry resumed a crucial event known as the Maritime Congressional Sail-In. Prior to the pandemic, the Sail-In took place annually for a decade before being forced into a three-year break.
The Sail-In involves meetings with members of Congress and their staffs throughout a very full day on Capitol Hill. We send small groups that include representatives from various sectors of the industry, including maritime unions, vessel operators, shipbuilders and more.
I’m glad it’s back. My overriding thought during the meetings was that we could stand to do more of that kind of outreach. It is that important. And it’s an eye-opener that reinforces the need for us to regularly educate Congress about who we are, what we do and why it matters to the nation. The individual meetings are longer than an elevator pitch, but in the same vein. We conducted more than 100 this time around.
Seafarers know that our industry is heavily regulated. The U.S. Merchant Marine depends on federal statutes including the Jones Act, the Maritime Security Program, cargo preference laws and more. In part, that’s because we play a critical role in national, economic and homeland security. But even if that’s common knowledge among some members of Congress, we cannot assume that all senators and congressmen and their staffs automatically know about the industry. Between the regular, election-generated turnover in D.C. and the constant attacks on U.S.-flag shipping, we have a mandate to remain politically active (not just at the federal level, either). We must speak up for ourselves in order to preserve your jobs and to keep the U.S. flag flying on the high seas, on the coasts and on our inland waterways.
This is a never-ending part of the job and I’m proud of the SIU’s very active participation year-round, not just during special events like the Sail-In. Nevertheless, the Sail-In is a big deal for us, and we’re all better off with its resumption. Next year we hope to have some rank-and-file members join us on Capitol Hill to meet with your representatives and share your experiences as Seafarers and what they mean to you and your community.
Recruiting the Next Generation
Along those same lines, recruiting is a constant undertaking. We all know about manpower challenges in our industry and others, and the SIU is leaving no stone unturned in our efforts to meet the moment. Most recently, this has involved outreach in Texas, California, New York, Washington State, Alaska and elsewhere.
Recruiting has always been part of our operation, but it has taken on added importance since the pandemic. With that in mind, we’ve invested additional resources and worked even more closely with our affiliated school and with our contracted operators to attract people.
Obviously, there’s not an overnight fix, but I believe we’re making progress. We will do whatever it takes to get the job done. Also, as mentioned in last month’s column, don’t underestimate the effectiveness of word-of-mouth, informal recruiting. That’s also been part of our identity for as long as we’ve been in business, and I encourage our SIU sisters and brothers to be on the lookout for prospective members and send them our way.
Last but not least, I’m happy to report that our Norfolk hiring hall renovation is moving along nicely. We remain on track for a reopening this summer, and I’m confident that our collective patience will be rewarded.
Anyone who has been to that hall knows that the location is tough to beat. Renovating, rather than relocating, was the right call, and we’ll rechristen the building in style.