By Paul Doell
Reports from the Great Lakes indicate that the irresponsible bareboat charter of five American Steamship Co. vessels to Grand River Navigation is complete, with all of these vessels operating - minimally, in some cases - under their new colors.
But this was no easy feat for ASC because the honorably uncooperative AMO Great Lakes membership stalled this scheme for two months as matter of both principle and self-respect following American Steamship Co.'s dismissal of at least 95 engineers, mates and crewmembers from their jobs on the five vessels - the American Mariner, H. Lee White, John J. Boland, Sam Laud and American Courage.
These courageous and perceptive AMO engineers and mates had seen the writing on the bulkhead: the bareboat charter arrangement would result in substantially lower wages and hollowed-out benefits across the board under the deficient Grand River Navigation standards at the behest of Rand Logistics LLC, which owns both American Steamship Co. and Grand River Navigation. The resultant 'cost savings' would then be diverted to satisfy multiple millions in Rand Logistics debt.
Resistance to this scheme began when most of the highly qualified, experienced engineers and mates fired from the five vessels refused ASC's directive that they apply to Grand River for vessel employment. American Steamship Co. apparently saw this demeaning "option" as a heroic, face-saving gesture, despite the average annual loss of $32,000 a year in income to each displaced AMO member and the surrender of AMO membership and the family-friendly benefits that go with taking Grand River jobs.
Many AMO members aboard other ASC vessels and in other Lakes fleets have turned down frantic offers from Grand River Navigation, which reportedly promised its own vessel employee bonuses - "bounties" is more like it - for each AMO engineer and mate they bring in through direct contact. Grand River also launched recruitment ads in the industry press.
Several AMO members have provided reliable first-hand reports of potentially tragic neglect and incompetence among established Grand River vessel personnel and the company's recruits - accounts of flooded engine rooms, the inability to fire up vessel engines, an entire complement removed from a vessel in response to an unreported COVID-19 outbreak, self-unloaders without conveyormen, unlicensed crew limited to a single AB and vessels operating below U.S. Coast Guard Certificate of Inspection requirements.
The AMO members passing these reports on ask understandably that their names be withheld in every reference, but just as many go public on social media, mixing wit with concern and making points well worth noting about questions from inexperienced, unskilled Grand River engineers and mates about how to do their jobs.
We have confirmed a handful of AMO members known to have been lured to the Grand River fleet. We will expel these individuals and deny them all the no-cost benefits provided through AMO Plans.
Meanwhile, I thank all reliably loyal AMO members for their activism on this front. I am most grateful for their commitment to our union and their conspicuous belief in common response to a complicated crisis.
This is both a labor issue and a moral cause. Saving jobs for the licensed seagoing professionals we are privileged to represent on the Great Lakes is but one objective. We have to focus as well on safeguarding human health and life and limb and promoting the values of trust, dignity, unity and plain old common sense. And we have to consider the potential impact of the shameless Rand Logistics-Grand River Navigation-American Steamship Co. strategy on all other Great Lakes bulk fleets.
We will keep all AMO members current on all developments as they occur.