President’s Column – Grassroots Action and the U.S. Merchant Marine


December 2017


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SIU President Michael Sacco reiterates recent reminders about the ongoing need to promote American maritime


Late October marked the end of a whirlwind stretch of four conventions in a little more than a month. In order and respectively, those gatherings were conducted by the SIU-affiliated United Industrial Workers; the Seafarers International Union of North America; the Maritime Trades Department; and the AFL-CIO. Throw in the formal celebration for the 50th anniversary of our affiliated school in Piney Point, Maryland, and you’ve got quite a bit of activity.


These conventions are important for many reasons, not the least of which is they offer dedicated time to sharpen our strategies for promoting and protecting members’ jobs as well as generally boosting the industries that support them. This time around, we also focused much of our attention on disaster relief for hurricane victims, especially in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.


One thing that really stood out to me was the common thread in remarks by three different congressmen (two Republicans, one Democrat) who spoke at the MTD convention. I’m paraphrasing, but they reminded us that we have to do our share of constantly educating politicians, their staffs and the public about the American maritime industry.


On one hand, that may seem obvious. There’s always going to be turnover with administrations and in Congress, as well as at the state and local levels of government. Plus, as people throughout our industry regularly say, maritime seems to be an unintentionally well-kept secret. We can’t assume that anyone outside the industry understands it.


And on the other hand, that prodding from members of Congress was a timely and valuable reminder. People who make careers in our industry – regardless of which component they work in – may sometimes forget that what’s second nature to us (such as understanding the extremely high importance of the Jones Act, cargo preference, and the Maritime Security Program) is anything but apparent to some others.


“Exhibit A” is the current fight about the Jones Act, which probably could have been avoided if more congressmen and senators had already understood the truth about America’s freight cabotage law. I think our industry is doing a good job of setting the record straight – most definitely including grassroots outreach by rank-and-file Seafarers – but the scope of the task has been jolting in some ways. Even some of the legislators who are usually pro-worker and pro-maritime temporarily got on the wrong side in this battle, but it was due to misinformation and misunderstanding.


Brothers and sisters, this is why we constantly remind you about the importance of all forms of political action. I know we talk a lot about SPAD, and SPAD is crucial for us, but our voluntary political action fund is only one piece of the puzzle. There’s also great value in grassroots activities such as precinct walks, phone banking, leafletting, and assisting your neighbors to the polls.


As an organization, we truly never stop working to promote the U.S. Merchant Marine. But above all else, politicians listen to constituents, and that’s why we ask you to get involved. When legislators know that jobs in their district or state are on the line, it’s usually not hard to get their attention.


One of the congressmen I mentioned, Bennie Thompson, wrapped up his MTD speech with a great description of our pro-maritime communications. He said, “You’ve got the best message in the world.” I could not agree more. We are promoting family-wage American jobs, national security, economic security and homeland security. We are promoting the support of our troops as America’s fourth arm of defense.


That’s why I know we’ll come out on top in our battles to preserve the U.S. Merchant Marine.



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