WASHINGTON – Greg Regan and Shari Semelsberger, President and Secretary-Treasurer of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD), issued the following response to Overseas Shipping Group CEO Sam Norton’s remarks, in which he called for replacing U.S. mariners with low-wage foreign workers to solve the maritime industry worker shortage:
“As the nation’s largest transportation labor federation, we strongly condemn the suggestion that low-wage foreign laborers should replace highly-skilled and highly-trained American mariners on U.S. tankers. Overseas Shipping Group, the largest domestic tanker company, receives federal funding from the Maritime Security Program (MSP) and Tanker Security Program (TSP) for maintenance of their tankers. It is unacceptable to undercut American workers while benefiting from American taxpayer dollars.
“Five years ago, the industry was approximately 1,800 mariners short. Today, that number is much higher. The reality is that we do not have a shortage of mariners – we have a shortage of mariners willing to work for less. The quantitative and qualitative career incentive gaps for mariners, when compared to their colleagues, must be addressed. Stagnant wages are coupled with exhausting days at sea, driven by understaffing, and an isolating environment where a lack of Wi-Fi connectivity on ships means going weeks or months without being in touch with loved ones.
“In times of peace, Merchant Mariners work on commercial vessels, transporting imports and exports by sea. In times of war, these same highly skilled civilian merchant mariners are called into service by the Department of Defense to move troops and materials on U.S.-flag commercial vessels and government owned vessels. The simple fact is that these workers are essential and they should receive improved wages and quality of life in return for their public service.
“Transportation labor unions have long called for a national maritime strategy that increases the size of the U.S.-flag fleet and the amount of cargo carried by the fleet; enhances and strengthens U.S.-flag cargo preference laws; fully funds the maritime and tanker security programs; and categorically rejects flag-of-convenience and open registry schemes. The federal government should also offer tax incentives to promote long-term career paths in the maritime industry.
“A robust resurgence of domestic maritime power is only possible when coupled with an equally robust growth of the Merchant Marine. That’s why we have also advocated for increasing enrollment at maritime academies and training institutions through updated education policies. We must attract prospective applicants by breaking down the financial barriers to entering the industry. This includes increasing student incentive payments for mariner education and training; subsidizing expenses for academies and schools so costs are not shifted to the pockets of cadets and other entry-level mariners; and allowing licensed and unlicensed merchant mariners to receive student loan forgiveness when they enter the workforce.
“On behalf of the thousands of maritime workers we represent, we urge industry executives like Mr. Norton to come to the table to discuss more realistic hiring and retention strategies. A long-lasting solution to the mariner workforce gap requires stronger wages to keep pace with inflation, better benefits, and a safer work environment.”
Read the statement from Marine Engineers’ Beneficial Association (MEBA) President Adam Vokac here. Read the statement from the International Organization of Masters, Mates and Pilots (MM&P Union) President Don Marcus here.