Another COVID-19 priority: protecting AMO jobs at home and overseas

This American Maritime Officers administration has three parallel priorities, each of which is more pronounced - and more important than ever - during this relentless COVID-19 pandemic.

Our first mission is to protect the health and safety of all deep-sea, Great Lakes and inland waters AMO members and their families under difficult, unanticipated circumstances.

Next, we have to do everything we can to ease professional and personal complications resulting from official efforts at every level of government and industry to limit contagion at sea and ashore nationwide.

Last, but certainly far from least, we have to protect our union's jobs in the deep-sea, Great Lakes and inland waters fleets - an everyday responsibility made even more urgent by the severe economic conditions linked to this coronavirus crisis.

AMO's greatest COVID difficulty since March 2020 has been on the Great Lakes, where several vessels have been withdrawn from service for indefinite periods, and where other vessels are operating at less than cargo capacity because of weak demand for industrial raw materials - iron ore, coal and stone. We will do everything we can to ride it out through recovery.

One truth left standing through this pandemic is that job security in AMO and throughout the U.S. maritime industry is determined on Capitol Hill in Washington. As we all know, every single U.S. seagoing job - licensed or unlicensed, private sector or civil service, union or not, in the U.S. or overseas - depends upon what Congress does or does not do each day, each week, each month, each year.

AMO is an acknowledged, influential maritime policy advocate in the capital, with a long, successful history of mixing legislative legwork with strategic use of the AMO Voluntary Political Action Fund.

The AMO Voluntary Political Action Fund is tapped exclusively to help lawmakers who help AMO members keep their jobs in domestic and international trades.

This fund covers no business, travel, meal or entertainment expenses. Disbursements from the VPAF are not based on party affiliation or ideological inclination. This fund supports Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives.

Lawmakers' positions on social and labor issues do not influence the careful contributions we make to the campaigns of Senators and to members of the House of Representatives. House members and Senators do not sway AMO with their prominence on either side of the growing national divide or with face time they log on cable talk shows.

The only criterion driving VPAF disbursements is the candidate's support of the U.S. merchant fleet and American merchant mariners.

In this, the 116th Congress, AMO held a significant lead in securing annual funding of the Maritime Security Program and gradual increases in the stipends paid through the Department of Transportation to keep the 60-ship MSP fleet operating in commercial markets to ensure that these ships and their officers and crews remain available for defense shipping services in national security emergencies. At the end of this fiscal year on September 30, unobligated additional funds will be available to assist the MSP as needed to sustain staffing of this fleet through the pandemic.

Our union was out front on other important legislative developments, including: reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank, which generates heavy-lift and project cargoes for U.S.-flag fleets that employ AMO engine and deck officers; initial funding of a long-sought second Great Lakes "thousand footer" lock at the Soo Locks in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan; sustained funding of food aid export programs; creation of a cable security fleet and promotion of a tanker security fleet, each modeled after the Maritime Security Program; and funding of the Maritime Administration's Ready Reserve Force and Military Sealift Command's surge fleet.

American Maritime Officers remains a notable defender of the Jones Act, a cause shared widely in the House of Representatives and in the Senate. Five separate bills targeting the Jones Act for amendment, waiver, exemption or outright repeal have languished in Congress for nearly two years because of a bipartisan Congressional coalition cultivated significantly over many years by AMO.

With the Congressional elections fast upon us, and with last-minute requests from Congressional allies for additional financial support at legal limits, I ask all deep-sea, Great Lakes and inland waters AMO members to consider contributing to the AMO Voluntary Political Action Fund at levels they can be comfortable with. Contributions can be made directly to the AMO VPAF by check or online or through authorized deductions from AMO Vacation Plan benefits.

I am not insensitive to the awkward timing here. Under current conditions AMO members must contend with - restriction to ship, limited movement and social contact, quarantine, stress, fatigue, longing for home after unexpectedly long shipboard assignments and unprecedented difficulty reaching vessels in the U.S. and abroad for relief jobs - through no fault of their own.

Nor am I indifferent to the strong possibility that individual AMO members may be helping family members pay bills after unforeseen unemployment or the collapse of a once-profitable small business - sad circumstances linked directly to the economic fallout of the pandemic.

Either way, support of the AMO Voluntary Political Action Fund is likely among the least immediate concerns among AMO members.

But I am well aware that our union's powerful political and industrial adversaries will not put their agendas - or their resources - on hold because of coronavirus complications.

Having worked Washington for AMO at many intervals over 48 years - including nearly nine years full-time as Legislative Director before my election to this job in 2014 - I know the value of direct contact with members of the House of Representatives, with Senators and with Congressional staff. I also know how the AMO Voluntary Political Action Fund eases critical access and thoughtful conversation on The Hill.

Our union will need its traditionally strong hand in Washington as we prepare for the 117th Congress at the New Year, assuming that the COVID-19 calamity lifts by then. I urge AMO members to be as practical in this pursuit as they are patient by supporting the AMO Voluntary Political Action Fund.

As always, I welcome your comments and questions, and I will provide legislative updates as developments occur.

Thank you for listening ...

Paul Doell
August 17, 2020