Full ahead for AMO throughout transition in leadership

By Willie Barrere
National President

American Maritime Officers has navigated a change in leadership following the retirement of Paul Doell, our union’s former president.

While elements of our transition will continue for a short time, know that those who have stepped up to serve our union are not starting from scratch. These circumstances have ushered in a leadership team with experience and devotion to serving the membership.

We are prepared for the course ahead of us and we are working together to continue delivering on our main objectives. These include ongoing increases in wages and benefits, shorter rotations, improvements in connectivity and shipboard conditions, expansion of the AMO-contracted fleet, pioneering new opportunities for AMO members, and driving recruitment to remedy the effects of the nationwide labor shortage within our ranks.

If you don’t know me, or don’t know me well, I am the son of a U.S. Army colonel and attended high school in the Panama Canal Zone. I used to watch the ships transiting the canal and, after talking with a number of people in the industry, decided going to sea would be a pretty cool job.

I learned about the state maritime academies and the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy and I applied. I was accepted by Kings Point and went there with the thought of being a ship captain.

Upon graduation, I worked at the academy and then sailed as an AB with Military Sealift Command prior to getting my first job with AMO. I earned my Unlimited Master’s License at age 27 and started sailing as captain at age 29. In all, I spent 32 years at sea with AMO – 27 of those as captain, primarily aboard Crowley and Maersk ships.

I came ashore when my father’s health started deteriorating. I lived in California at the time and was asked to work as AMO’s West Coast representative. I enjoyed that position, helping the membership and working with Danny Shea and later with Mike Finnigan on numerous projects.

When Mike tragically passed away in 2021, I was asked to step up and complete his term as the union’s executive vice president. I did so and completed a move to Florida. I was then elected executive vice president in December 2022.

When Paul retired after more than 50 years at AMO, the National Executive Board elected me to serve as AMO president until the next election of union officials.

In every position I’ve held throughout my career, I’ve strived to be the best for my crew or my team. This job is no exception and I will always be looking for what we can do better.

As for what we are doing now, the labor shortage is a central factor. It impacts our membership and contracted operating companies, and it has influenced the priorities of our union.

The labor shortage has led to increased competition between unions and other maritime enterprises seeking to attract officers. This has driven up wages to recruit and retain a new generation of mariners, and the pay scales for AMO members are increasing accordingly.

To elevate AMO as the most attractive option for new officers, we established a membership drive with reduced initiation and a fast track to membership, which proved very successful. We’re more than a month into our second membership drive now and hope for a similar outcome. We also focus on quality-of-life issues in our contract negotiations, with onboard Internet access throughout our fleet being a top priority.

We completely revamped our recruiting strategy and set it in motion last summer. About 500 applicants paid off their initiation this past year through our membership drive and more officers applied to AMO. Although we are focusing on academies as the most efficient venue for recruiting new officers in numbers, we continue to explore other potential sources for new applicants with an eye on time, cost, and outcomes.

STAR Center has significantly increased the number of cadets in the TECH Program. Additionally, STAR Center launched the Officer in Charge of an Engineering Watch (OICEW) program last summer for officers with a national license to earn their STCW qualifications – a program long in the making. The first class has graduated and the second OICEW class is now in session.

We’ve endorsed direct-hire letters for our contracted operating companies to encourage an expansion of corporate recruiting. We have also established pass-through agreements with the other officers’ unions to fill billets in all departments on a case-by-case basis.

STAR Center continues to offer the Military Sealift Command Core4 course to efficiently provide the training needed by AMO members, applicants, and potential applicants to meet the basic requirements to sail aboard MSC vessels.

Our tankship Person in Charge program is in full swing for PIC endorsements as our contracted tanker fleet continues to expand. We also have some new agreements taking shape in the wind farm arena and we expect they will provide exciting opportunities for AMO members.

In our shoreside operations, the executive board is working together with our staff to build better relationships and a stronger team to provide superior service to the membership.

With a sudden change in leadership, it sometimes feels like we are just getting started. But the truth is, we are already well underway. I’m looking forward to working with you in my new role as president of AMO.