By Paul Doell
My thanks and my lasting appreciation to all American Maritime Officers members who participated in the 2018 election as voters and as candidates who competed freely for the seven official positions that comprise the AMO National Executive Board. This was a crucial democratic exercise marked by lively exchange, astute observations and pointed commentary from AMO members weighing in through social media, and the inevitable controversies.
I was disappointed to know in the end that AMO member turnout was not what I had anticipated when I added 30 days to the voting period to ease union-wide ballot access and to give deep-sea, Great Lakes and inland waters AMO members more time to consider their ballot options thoroughly and objectively. In time, the board and I will reassess the value of this initiative, and I encourage AMO members to comment openly - not to tell us how they voted or whether they voted at all, but to provide perspective on what may have gone wrong and why.
Despite this odd twist, I found the election outcome encouraging in many respects. The results suggest a promising year for all deep-sea, Great Lakes and inland waters AMO members and their families.
The voting AMO membership majority dislodged two entrenched officials resistant to additional real reform - a significant achievement that will make policy consensus much easier to reach. Familiar figures elevated to official positions are wide open to input from and honest conversation with the seagoing AMO membership - fundamental principles that now guide all elected AMO officials.
Appointed representatives who have made the professional interests of on-the-job members the exclusive focus of vessel servicing will continue to address work-related issues and to answer members' questions directly, courteously, honestly and as completely as possible.
There will be no personal political turf building on this next four-year watch.
One priority in the New Year will be sustained financial security for American Maritime Officers. Effective cost containment initiatives at headquarters and a responsive membership paying dues on time and at record rates combined to make 2019 our union's fifth consecutive year without a dues increase or an increase in the fees charged to applicants for AMO membership - fees payable over five years. AMO's operating, reserve and investment accounts are at their highest levels in several years, and this administration remains committed to a healthy, positive income-expense ratio.
A real effort at contract reform and clarification is already underway. Mike Finnigan, our newly elected executive vice president, has been at it with characteristically high energy and determination, digging into collective bargaining agreements, memoranda of understanding, appendices and relevant correspondence - matters unresolved, matters in the pipeline, all while reaching out to and taking calls from AMO members. Mike is focused equally on economics and on quality of working life issues.
We have work to do as well with AMO Plans, the employer-paid benefit funds that serve all deep-sea, Great Lakes and inland waters AMO members and their families.
As AMO's lead trustee on the joint union-employer boards of trustees governing these funds, my priority remains recovery of the defined benefit AMO Pension Plan - a task not as simple as some would suggest.
At the end of its fiscal year on Sept. 30, 2018, the AMO Pension Plan entered the federal Pension Protection Act's "green zone" - funded at 82.3 percent, a level that is expected to exceed 100 percent within five years. The AMO Pension Plan's green zone status was not lost during the investment market meltdown that persisted through the fourth quarter of calendar year 2018, including the record losses recorded in December, just in time for the holidays.
The question now is: "Where do we go from here?" Green zone status allows the first consideration of AMO Pension Plan remedial options since the Plan was suspended under the Pension Protection Act in December 2009. Potential ways of fulfilling the AMO Pension Plan's obligations to vested active participants and to current retirees and survivors legally, responsibly and in a reasonable amount of time have already been floated for preliminary discussion.
But AMO Pension Plan policy is driven by the seagoing employment base that generates employer contributions to the Plan and by variables and assumptions - asset value, liabilities, interest rates, return on investment. The only absolute certainties at this point are that there is movement at long last, and that 10 years is too long a time in limbo.
At this writing, the AMO Pension Plan trustees were to meet mid-month at AMO headquarters, and I will keep all AMO members current through appropriate channels on what develops from this meeting and from subsequent conversation.
Meanwhile, I encourage all deep-sea, Great Lakes and inland AMO members to speak up and speak out, comfortably and securely. Your views matter to this administration, and we want everyone heard.