Monday, March 30, 2020

US Maritime Unions Step Up to the Plate to Fight Coronavirus

Efforts to Maintain Supply Chain as Hospital Ships Arrive
Shipping News Feature

US – With the US now having more cases than any other in the world, the country's supply chain is coming under ever greater pressure as the Covid-19 virus spreads across the states. This inevitably means the US maritime unions are finding themselves on the frontlines to aid the government's efforts to combat the spread of the virus.

Last week, the government activated its two military hospital ships, the USNS Mercy and the USNS Comfort, which will be docked in Los Angeles and New York City. The two 1000-bed military hospitals ships will provide California and New York additional hospital capacity, and vital relief to the both state’s hospitals that are reaching capacity due to the outbreak of Covid-19.

The USNS Mercy and USNS Comfort are crewed by civil service mariners who operate and navigate the ship, load and off-load the cargo, assist with the repairs to mission equipment and provide essential services to keep the ships running.

These mariners are represented by the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) seafarers’ affiliates the Seafarers International Union (SIU), the Marine Engineers’ Beneficial Association (MEBA) and the Masters, Mates and Pilots (MM&P). David Heindel, secretary-treasurer of the Seafarers International Union and ITF Seafarers Section chair, comments:

”The United States maritime unions have a long history of providing aid and assistance in times of need, and this is no exception. We will continue to work with the government and industry to overcome this crisis.”

ITF Dockers affiliates, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA), are also assisting in the efforts. On Friday, ILWU Locals 13, 63 and 94 welcomed the USNS Mercy and worked together to tie up the ship as it docked in the Port of Los Angeles. Willie Adams, ILWU president and ITF Dockers’ Section vice chair, observes:

“ILWU longshoremen, mechanics, marine clerks and foremen are heroes on the front line of the supply chain. Moving the economy, moving cargo, we are open for business. The assistance the ILWU provided in Los Angeles is just one example of how ILWU members are aiding in the efforts to stop the spread of Covid-19.”

The USNS Comfort is expected to arrive in New York City on Monday, and the ILA will welcome the vessel and provide assistance to the relief efforts. International Longshoremen’s Association President Harold Daggett, said:

“The dedication of ILA members to serve during this pandemic is inspirational. We share the goal to provide assistance to help other first-responders, to keep our ports open, and to ensure that the general public get the supplies they need.”

In addition to the important role the United States maritime unions are playing to assist with the USNS Mercy and USNS Comfort, seafarers and dockers unions are playing a critical role in keeping the supply chain moving. Despite the risk of infection to themselves and their families, workers are ensuring that essential medical supplies and goods are being delivered, unloaded and loaded onto vessels.

Photo: Inside one of the operating theatres on the USNS Comfort. Courtesy Department of Defense.