By Paul Doell
Midway through 2021, no one in our union can be faulted for considering this a year to forget rather than to remember.
The sudden passing of our longtime friend Mike Finnigan on March 19; the debilitating effects of cancer battled bravely for seven years by Joe Gremelsbacker; the unprecedented union-wide electronic vote that ended a prolonged internal administrative dispute in keeping with democratic principle and the AMO Constitution, and the simultaneous removal of an AMO official from his job.
All of this was enough to cause each of us to ask: "What's next?"
But, despite these crises, American Maritime Officers stands strong, stable and secure.
The appointments of Captain Willie Barrere and Chief Engineer Jeff Richards to complete the terms of Mike and Joe as AMO Executive Vice President and AMO Deep-Sea Vice President, respectively, have been received favorably well beyond AMO headquarters. Willie and Jeff have many attributes, but the quality most conspicuous in each is the relentless commitment to the professional and personal needs of the seagoing AMO membership.
Our union gains as well from Joe's continued advice and his inspirational effort to ease Jeff's transition to the job.
The first-ever online vote of the deep-sea, Great Lakes and inland waters AMO membership ended on June 30, closing the books on seven separate internal impeachment cases initiated under Article XXIII of the AMO Constitution.
The findings, conclusions and recommendations of seven trial committees were ratified by wide margins in votes cast by 864 AMO members, clearing six AMO Executive Board members of all substantive charges filed against them by Charles Murdock but accepting the seventh committee's recommendation that Murdock be removed from office as AMO Secretary-Treasurer for having failed to track and address membership dues delinquency and allowing this debt to AMO to spike to alarming levels during his time in office.
Murdock had challenged the underway online voting in an emergency motion asking Federal Court for the Southern District of Florida to block the balloting and to void the outcome at that point. The court denied this motion and endorsed the union-wide balloting as a fair and appropriate way of ratifying the impeachment decisions in compliance with federal law and Article XXIII of our union's governing document.
Murdock's proven failures in office - as severe as they were - and his indifference did not hinder the sound management of AMO assets on Murdock's watch. A continuing series of monthly operating budget surpluses since mid-year 2015 resulted from careful planning, smart decisions by and frequent consultation with AMO Director of Business Administration Thom Heaton, and the targeting of waste, extravagance and redundancy. Murdock was not involved at all, and he expressed no interest in anything other than receiving the data he needed to provide the official Secretary-Treasurer's financial report during monthly membership meetings.
The revenue lost under Charles Murdock did not constrain our seven-year streak without an increase in AMO membership dues - still the lowest rates among the three U.S. merchant marine officers' unions - or a hike in the initiation fees charged to applicants for AMO membership.
So ... what's next?
We have to designate a qualified replacement for Charles Murdock as the AMO Secretary-Treasurer.
We have to see online voting to end the impeachment cases as the positive precedent it was - giving all AMO members in good standing the opportunity to help determine policy can strengthen internal democracy and thwart autocratic impulse. As one AMO member said in a message to me: "Electronic voting appears to be an incredible success. Congratulations on adding this incredibly important facet to our union. You guys literally just made it possible for everyone to claim ownership and have a meaningful voice. Absolutely incredible! Well done!"
We will have interesting conversations about the mechanics of routine online voting, and we encourage all AMO members to join in.
And our union at long last has to find a return to "normal," even though this word has been redefined since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. We will resume safe live monthly membership meetings at headquarters, with August as the targeted start.
Once we have effective dues management in place, the additional operating revenue will allow the AMO East, Gulf and West Coast, and Great Lakes, reps to call upon more vessels in more places more often. It will allow AMO officials to resume their periodic group tours of AMO fleets in all sectors, and it will cover the cost of streaming and recording the official membership meetings.
We on the AMO Executive Board will keep our seagoing membership advised of developments as they occur, and we encourage honest ongoing dialog and free expression from any angle on any issue.