The International Organization of Masters, Mates & Pilots, a union that represents 4,500 to 5,000 licensed deck officers and retirees, said the members of its offshore group have voted overwhelmingly to ratify a series of 10-year contract extensions.
Members of the MM&P's offshore group work for employers such as Maersk Line Ltd., APL, Matson Lines, Horizon Lines, Waterman Steamship/Central Gulf and Patriot Contract Services.
The newly ratified agreements will provide long-term job security to
MM&P members and preserve industry-leading MM&P standards of
wages and working conditions aboard our contracted vessels,” said Don Marcus, who became international president of the union in January, replacing Tim Brown who had been at the union's helm since 1991.
Marcus said a “hybrid” pension plan with both a fixed and a variable component approved by members "will open new doors of employment.”
"We think there is a balance with this adjustable pension plan between risk averse employers getting involved in a pension plan and retirement security and conditions for members," he said.
"There is pressure on employers to retain and recruit talent, particularly at the highest level, senior officers. We think some form of retirement security is essential in retaining quality officers and we think that this plan, which has a variable component, reduces the risk and which is based on a low assumed rate of return--we think the design of the plan will encourage employers to sign on with us."
He said the union is looking for both new and existing employers to expand, not to get "involved in jurisdictional raiding. We are a member of the AFL-CIO and quite frankly we abhor the race to the bottom that other organizations have engaged in. This is designed to maintain employment and retirement security for our members."
The new contract covers the 1,200 active members of the offshore group. MM&P also has about 1,200 inland members who work on ships in the Great Lakes or on the West Coast, 1,000 pilots, and about 1,500 retirees.
Asked about the outlook for the U.S. merchant marine, Marcus said to a great degree "the future is going to be determined in Washington," adding the Jones Act, cargo preference, and the maritime security program have all been attacked or faced uncertainty in recent months.
"We are hanging on to what is left of the industry and hoping at some point it turns around. In the meantime we have to secure what we have and put political pressure in Washington to preserve, and hopefully at some point expand the programs that exist. Otherwise we are not looking at much of a future," he said.
A short union history penned by Brown and Steven Werse notes in the early 1980s MM&P took a "crippling blow,"
losing jobs on 80 ships, mostly tankers, after a 1984 strike and raiding by other unions.
Today, some shipping executives view the tanker industry as a possible bright spot for the U.S. merchant marine because of the need for increased movements of shale oil along the U.S. coast in U.S.-flag ships, potentially replacing oil imports on foreign-flag ships.
A recent Bloomberg
article quoted Morten Arntzen
, who resigned as chief executive officer of Overseas Shipholding Group this month after his company filed for reorganization under Chapter 11 bankruptcy last November, as saying "we’re seeing very healthy cash flow generated by the Jones Act fleet. Clearly the international crude markets are challenged. The demand for Jones Act tankers makes OSG a more appealing investment.”
Is there any chance that might provide increased employment opportunities for MM&P members?
Marcus said it may, noting the MM&P still has a presence in the tanker industry and "a foothold with our inland group with the ITBs (integrated tug barges), ATBs (articulated tug barges) with Crowley - they are one of our employers on the inland side. We see there are areas of growth and we hope to participate in it." But he said "obviously we've got to build some ships."
Similarly, while for many years there has been talk of the potential of short sea shipping to provide additional jobs for U.S. mariners, development of such services is "dependent on politics and the ability to build ships and get shipping loans and financing and that is heavily dependent on politics and support for the industry," he said.
MM&P is an affiliate of the International Longshoremen's Association.- Chris Dupin