No AMO retreat on job placement by Anderson-Kelly

By Paul Doell
National President

Congress has no legal authority to question or interfere with private business service or vendor agreements between two commercial interests – including contracts between U.S.-flag merchant fleet owners or operators and “fit for duty” arbiters Anderson-Kelly Associates Inc.

This was a principal point made by staff of Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins to AMO Chief Engineer Bob Ring in reply to Ring’s January 2023 constituent complaint to Sen. Collins that he – and many other AMO members – had been denied seagoing employment by Anderson-Kelly, despite having been found fit for duty in health examinations by the U.S. Coast Guard, by personal physicians and by certified health care specialists.

In his initial written contact with Sen. Collins, Ring cited as an example that he had been required to file “clearance letters” from his primary care physician, only to find that Anderson-Kelly altered these letters to fit the company’s preferred format.

“I have done this on numerous occasions over the last 15 months,” said Ring, who now works as an adjunct instructor at the AMO Safety & Education Plan’s STAR Center across Federal Highway from AMO headquarters in Dania Beach. “Getting test after test done at their insistence when I hold a USCG Med Cert seems that there may be some malfeasance at play.”

We thank Sen. Collins – who has a solid record of support for the U.S. maritime industry and a well-documented history of assisting Maine residents relentlessly – for her rapid response to Ring, and the Senator and her staff may very well at some point soon have more information for Bob from the Maritime Administration, the Coast Guard and/or Military Sealift Command.

Bob and other AMO members subject to judgment by Anderson-Kelly want only to know that their earned professional credentials, their direct on-the-job experience and their certified good health status are sufficient for gainful work at sea under AMO covered engine and deck employment.

This is our cause as well at AMO headquarters, and we will not retreat from it. We cannot dismiss the disturbing fact that Anderson-Kelly remains the ultimate job placement authority over AMO members.

But our union does have one unique commitment we believe can neutralize the Anderson-Kelly threat – U.S. national security. AMO represents most of the USCG-licensed civilian U.S. merchant marine officers called upon for strategic sealift and other military support services in wartime – services the Department of Defense itself cannot provide.
AMO engine and deck officers work aboard ships in the Maritime Administration’s growing Ready Reserve Force while these vessels are on standby Reduced Operating Status and when full officer and crew complements are required for activation in emergencies.

AMO engine and deck officers work aboard Military Sealift Command vessels intended for specific national security missions.

AMO engine and deck officers work aboard ships operating routinely in commercial foreign trade but available on demand to DOD for diversion to national security service through the Maritime Security Program. Ships enrolled in the MSP delivered more than 90 percent of the defense cargoes to the war zones during Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.

Nor can we overlook the availability of private sector U.S. merchant mariners in Jones Act fleets for defense shipping. A study following Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm in Kuwait in 1990 and 1991 found that 80 percent of the licensed and unlicensed mariners working the “eight-mile steel bridge” of ships heading for Kuwait had begun their seagoing careers in domestic markets governed by the Jones Act.

Consider the consequences of Anderson-Kelly barring qualified, experienced officers and crew members from such military support employment in a defense crisis near or far because of illnesses or accidents these mariners had recovered from completely long ago. Under this scenario, would DOD be forced to ask U.S. Armed Forces overseas to hurry up and wait for defense cargoes?

There are many lawmakers in the House of Representatives and in the Senate who would be intrigued and concerned by this possibility – members of both political parties and divided ideologies united by any threat to defense capabilities. These elected officials serve most prominently on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation and the House and Senate Armed Services Committees.

We also have a potential finding of age discrimination against Anderson-Kelly. Guidelines from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission state that federal law sets age 40 as the point where employment discrimination may apply, and the EEOC appears to set standards which may fit the Anderson-Kelly model. I will meet with General Counsel to AMO to determine if this is a valid issue.

Meanwhile, I ask all AMO members displaced by Anderson-Kelly nationwide to file complaints with their elected representatives in both Congressional chambers, and to let us know of the responses they receive. The questions these lawmakers are certain to ask would lift the restraint on probing routine commercial agreements between individual U.S.-flag merchant ship owners and operators and Anderson-Kelly.