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Subcommittee Chair Duncan Hunter (left) and Ranking Member John Garamendi listen to testimony.

Members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation heard testimony on January 17 reaffirming the vital work performed by the U.S. Merchant Marine from union, government and industry witnesses.

Those called to testify at the hearing entitled “The State of the U.S.-Flag Maritime Industry” spoke out for maintaining the Jones Act and the Maritime Security Program while renewing calls to strengthen the nation’s cargo preference laws.

Opening the hearing, Subcommittee Chairman Duncan Hunter (R-CA) stated,  “In order for us to maintain the way of life as we know it as a nation that is secure and is able to project power, be it Navy power or commercial power, the Jones Act is intrinsic to that. It is the cornerstone of all of them…the absurdity to have Korean or Chinese or name-your-country made ships take away the entire American workforce of making ships and driving them and getting something from point A to point B in America…it’s absurd and I hope that we keep educating…so that people understand how [the Jones Act] is one of the cornerstones of our entire country’s national security apparatus.”

US Maritime Administrator Mark Buzby emphasizes the security component for the Jones Act.

Following Hunter was Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA), the subcommittee’s ranking member, who added, “First and foremost, we cannot become complacent in our defense of the Jones Act and our efforts… to raise public awareness of the need for, and the many benefits that flow, from this long-standing maritime policy that has stood for nearly a century.”

Part of two different panels to appear before the subcommittee, both U.S. Maritime Administrator Mark H. Buzby and Marine Engineers’ Beneficial Association (MEBA) Secretary-Treasurer Bill Van Loo emphasized the need for more cargo to keep America’s merchant fleet afloat.

“Cargo is a main factor determining the number of ships in the U.S.-flagged fleet, and the number of ships then influences the number of mariners who are available to run those ships and maintain a strong, resilient U.S. Merchant Marine,” Buzby declared.

In his prepared remarks on behalf of MEBA, the American Maritime Officers, Masters Mates & Pilots, and the Seafarers Union, Van Loo pointed out, “It is very simple. Without cargo, our ships do not and our mariners do not stand by.”

MEBA Sec-Treas Bill Van Loo reminds legislators that merchant mariners have always answered the nation’s call.

Both Buzby and Van Loo (along with the other witnesses) reiterated their organizations’ support for the Jones Act, the nation’s freight cabotage law.

“Coastwise trade laws promote a strong and vibrant U.S. domestic maritime industry, which helps the United States maintain its expertise in shipbuilding and maritime transportation,” Buzby noted. “The Jones Act also ensures that vessels navigating on a daily basis among and between U.S. coastal ports and vulnerable inland waterways are operating with U.S. documentation and crew rather than under a foreign flag with foreign crew.

“Those [American] mariners are a de facto layer of our national security,” Buzby added.

“And the Jones Act makes that possible, period” Hunter interjected. “Yes, sir,” responded Buzby.

That same theme was provided during opening remarks by Rep. Garret Graves (R-LA), “[The Jones Act] isn’t just about employment and the economy, it’s about national security implications…It’s important that we do keep this on the front burner.”

During his testimony, U.S Coast Guard Rear Admiral John Nadeau stated, “Security is very important…and that would be a different paradigm should that not all be us, U.S. mariners, U.S. citizens on board those ships.” (Nadeau is the assistant commandant for prevention policy.)

Others appearing before the subcommittee included Eric Ebeling, president and CEO for American Roll-On Roll-Off Carrier; Matt Woodruff, chairman of American Maritime Partnership; Matthew Paxton, president of the Shipbuilders Council of America; and Aaron Smith, president and CEO of the Offshore Marine Service Association.

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Chicago PMC President James Sanfilippo

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Besides his duties with the PMC, Brother Sanfilippo was the president and business manager for Carpenters Local 1539, a post he held for 16 years. In addition, Brother Sanfilippo served as a delegate to the Chicago Regional Council of Carpenters, the United Brotherhood of Carpenters General Convention, the Chicago Federation of Labor, the Chicago & Cook County Building Trades and the Italian American Labor Council.

He represented the PMC at the MTD Convention in St. Louis during October.

“Jimmy was a very good union brother, who worked very hard to promote his Port Council,” stated MTD President Michael Sacco. “We will miss him.”

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MTD Pres Michael Sacco and St Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson pose with the St Louis Fire Fighters Honor Guard.

St Charles County Executive Steve Ehlmann speaks on the need for inland waterway infrastructure to handle expected agricultural growth.

Standing with unions against a proposed right-to-work law for Missouri is St Louis County Executive Steve Stenger.

Local Missouri elected officials welcomed the 2017 MTD Convention with open arms – and speeches – from the mayor of St. Louis and county executives from St. Charles and St. Louis counties.

Mayor Lyda Krewson opened the convention on October 19, following the ST. Louis Fire Fighters Honor Guard presentation of colors. She began by thanking MTD President Michael Sacco as well as the members of the St. Louis Area and Vicinity Port Maritime Council for their efforts to promote American-flag shipping and good jobs.

Krewson told the convention, “As you probably know, we have a strong maritime industry right here in St. Louis, because of the St. Louis Port Council and the St. Louis Port Authority. Our port here in St. Louis is the third largest inland port in the United States, and 35 million tons of goods move through the port annually. The maritime industry is responsible for 20,000 jobs in the port district that are very, very critical to our economy.”

She then talked about the many benefits that were created by the St. Louis Regional Freightway, a comprehensive site for manufacturing distribution in the St. Louis area. One of those benefits, she said, is an increase in union jobs for the region.

The mayor also praised the work of the labor leaders in attendance: “None of this (job creation) would be possible without the work that all of you do every day. The river’s always been a way of bringing communities together to strengthen economic development. Its economic potential is vital for our future. And by capturing the river’s economic benefits, of course, we create great-paying jobs, and the opportunity to organize workers and prepare them to be successful members of our workforce.

“I know each of your unions will continue to equip workers and train workers with the skills that they need to thrive,” she continued. “Because that’s what great unions to do. The Maritime Trades have a long legacy of fighting to protect workers, and fighting to strengthen the U.S. maritime industry. From wage increases to improved work conditions, the Maritime Trades have proven time and again that it protects its members. I’m proud to back you, and I’m proud to back your members.”

Representing neighboring St. Charles County, County Executive Steve Ehlmann began by explaining the region’s long history of commerce up and down the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, adding, “As the mayor said, ports are a very important economic engine here in the region. My county right now, we have paid for a study to determine the feasibility of us creating a port authority in St. Charles County.”

Ehlmann then spoke about the future need for shipping in the region, specifically in transporting food and other agricultural products. He said, “The freight district calls this the Ag Coast of America. And, as you know, one industry we know is going to grow in the next 20 years is agriculture. Just the very need to feed the people of the world, in our location between the fields and the mouths around the world, puts us in a position to play a very important role in that.”

St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger emphasized the importance of union labor to the region, saying, “The Greater St. Louis Area and Vicinity Port Maritime Council includes people who work on the rivers, build our communities, drive on our highways, and are employed in our stores and restaurants. We are talking about glass workers, bricklayers, longshoremen, insulators, electricians, elevator constructors, ironworkers, firefighters, plumbers, and food and commercial workers among others. These hard-working men and women are a powerful economic and political force in Missouri, the nation, and indeed throughout the world.

“Union labor has been the key to St. Louis County’s current construction boom,” he continued. “Since last year, major corporations have invested $4 billion in capital improvements and expansions in our county. These investments generated over 5,700 new jobs and retained about 21,000 more, not to mention the thousands of good-paying union construction jobs that were needed to construct these fine facilities. This boom has attracted national attention. Companies that want work done right the first time are drawn to our region because we have the best-trained workforce in the Midwest.”

Stenger concluded by stressing the importance of union solidarity: “As all members of the port maritime councils well know, there is strength in unity. And as was mentioned, this unity, this strength is called for ahead of the November 2018 election, when voters in Missouri will decide whether they want the so-called ‘right-to-work’ law that Governor Greitens signed into effect. I can remember when I was six years old, campaigning against right to work the first time in 1978. I was in the back of a blue Pinto handing out ‘Right to Work Is a Rip-Off’ stickers with my pop…. And we know now what we knew then, that this law is designed to weaken unions – to really destroy unions – to drive down wages and turn back the clock on working conditions, and we certainly don’t want that. This bill was indeed, I think, the single worst blow against organized labor in the history of the state of Missouri, and I want you to know that I will continue to do everything in my power to help reverse it.”

 

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