MEBA 101: A guide for newbies on what to know and what to expect

It’s been a long time since I’ve been on here. Hello old friends, you know who you are.

I am writing this because I’ve had a couple of new guys that have been out to the ship the past few trips and they were told about how some things work that were entirely false. Some guys want to keep union secrets because it keeps membership down and more jobs are available. I agree to that to some degree but I also subscribe to new blood isn’t a bad thing either. First of all, they’re not secrets and there are a lot of guys out here that could use a little competition for jobs, maybe it’ll make them work harder to keep their spots.

Marine Engineers Beneficial Association is not the easiest thing to navigate. The staff in the hall will help with questions, but the answers are typically vague and the right questions need to be asked. You can search online but, in my experience the information is hard to find, not reliable or not out there. Most of the guys sitting in the hall and on the ships are willing to talk and answer questions but, there is a lot of misinformation. Its not likely that this is intentional but, some things can be misconstrued or just false on how things really work.

I will try to shed some light on what you can expect. I am a current MEBA member who is actively sailing with MEBA. I do not know it all and anything here is of the top of my head. I’ll try to be accurate and if I’m not sure, I’ll say so but, without a doubt, I got something wrong. Check and verify always.

The basics.

All the MEBA jobs are contractual. It’s a union. Unions are ALL ABOUT THE CONTRACTS. Contracts vary from company to company and even the same class ships at the same company, have different contracts. Contracts change regularly and you can view any contract at any hall. Learn to read contracts. In each hall there is a book with pay scales for each ship. You can look at these at any time while in the hall. If you don’t see a contract or pay scale you’re looking for, talk to the dispatcher or patrolman and they will get it for you.

There are two classifications of engineers in the union. Applicants and members. Applicants are those who have submitted for membership who have not met the requirements for membership. Members are those who have met the requirements, are current on dues and are in good standing with the union.

Group Status.

Like in life, Status is everything. This is more so in MEBA. There are four Group Status classifications with MEBA. Group 3 Applicant, Group 2 Applicant, Group 2 and Group 1. There is no such thing as a Group 1 Applicant. Group status will determine many things. Above all, Group status determines who has the better chance to get the best jobs. More on Group status later. First, you need to apply…

To become an applicant you need to go to one of the halls and apply for membership. This requires that you pay 150.00, submit your documents and take a physical at one of two MEBA Diagnostics Centers in Oakland or Baltimore. It also requires that you pass a DOT urine drug screening. Once you apply and do these things you can ship out of the hall, take night jobs or just sit on your application and let the days accumulate.

To be considered for membership, you need the following:

  1. 200 sailing days with the Union.
  2. Be current on membership dues (600.00 per year, paid 150.00 quarterly).
  3. Two Letters of Recommendation from members in good standing.
  4. 4,000.00 in initiation fees paid in full.
  5. 25 months as an applicant.
  6. Submit an application for membership.
  7. Be voted in by members by an up or down vote held twice each year.

To clarify what is required for membership and how you go about satisfying these requirements…

The 200 sailing days is pretty straight forward however, once you sail, depending on who you ship out with, you may or may not be eligible to attend training at the MEBA Calhoun school in Maryland. Any days attending the school count as sailing days. The may or may not be eligible to attend school depends on how much that company pays into the training clause of the contract. Some companies you can attend any and all classes for a calendar year after just 30 days onboard their vessels. Other companies do not pay into the training fund and you’re not eligible to attend training for free.

Union dues
The dues are pretty straight up as well. 600.00 per year paid 150.00 the first day of each Jan, April, July and October. You have to be current on dues if you are shipping out or taking night-work out of the halls, attending school at Calhoun, taking classes at an alternative training facility or doing your annual physical. EVERYTHING you do where any part of the union is involved, they check to see if you are current on dues. You can pay in person or online when they are due. Its easiest to just sign up to have these taken automatically annually or quarterly. The takeaway should be that the union isn’t even going to talk to you if your behind on dues. If you’re behind, you do not exist. Just pay them.

Letters of recommendation
This is as simple as it gets. There is a form in the MEBA website that you print and have a member who you have sailed with fill out for you. Any CE or 1AE will do this without question unless you pissed them off and they think you’re garbage. The garbage is out there, believe me. It’s a simple form, look it up.

Initiation Fees
You have to pay 4,000.00 in initiation fees. (These can be waived if you sail on MSC or other government ships for, I think, two years? Not certain about this as I have never sailed with MSC) There is one way and one way only to actually pay this fee. It is 4,000.00 over 24 months. This comes out of vacation pay. You do not pay this fee until you ship out. Depending on the contract, as they are ship specific, you earn vacation for days worked. Say you get 27 days vacation for 30 days worked. (Some are more, some are less but we’ll use this as it’s pretty normal vacation for a 3AE and 2AE). Divide the base rate by 30 and this is your daily vacation pay. If you sail 90 days you accumulate 80 days vacation. (The first day on the vessel is an overlap day. The guy who you are relieving gets the vacation for that day. It’s fair. You get it the day you leave, he doesn’t. The shipping company is not going to pay vacation twice for the same day.) Say you join the union in February. You ship out in March for 90 days. When you get off, you submit for vacation pay. They will take around 150.00 per month for your initiation fees since you last paid initiation fees. You’re a new applicant on your first trip so you have never paid. They will take 750.00. 150.00 for February, March, April, May and June. They will do this every time you file vacation for 24 months. 24 multiplied by 150.00 is 3,600.00. At the end of your 25 months before you submit for membership, you can pay a lump sum of whatever balance remains but you cannot pay a lump sum at any other time. This is a federal law and has nothing to do with the union.

25 Months as an applicant
This means you are not eligible for membership until the 25th month after applying. This is because members have voting rights for union elections. They do not want people applying right before an election who have no vested interest in the union.

Submit an application for membership
This is also pretty simple. Fill out the form online and request to be considered for membership at the next up/down vote. Go to the hall. Make sure everything in your file is up to date. Dues are current, Sailing days are credited, initiation fees, references and application. Have the patrolman call New York to make sure everything is current and that you are on the list to be voted on. This only happens twice a year. In March and September monthly meetings I believe. So you want to make sure all is in order or you have to wait another six months.

Vote for membership
The halls hold union meetings. During designated meetings they will read the names of applicants requesting membership. Those in attendance will give an up down vote when you name is called. A down vote isn’t the normal occurrence but it does happen. If anyone gives a down vote saying something like this guy is a piece of garbage and we don’t want him in the union, or this guy is taking jobs with AMO, the down vote will be noted and investigated. Everyone who doesn’t get a down vote will be named a member.

So now you’re a member. It’s smooth sailing from this point forward right? Not so fast but, membership is not without benefits. Some of the more important ones are: you can now be direct hired by any MEBA company. While this pertains mainly to Chief Engineers and 1AEs, it is not inclusive to these positions. Some companies have it in their contracts that they can hire 2AEs directly as well. It’s not really a direct hire because, unless you are a Group 1, there is a limit to how many days you can take a rotary position however, it does open some doors that were closed to you as an applicant. Say for instance OSG has a position for a 2AE that is coming up. As a member and if you are known to OSG, they can call you and offer you the spot for that trip. You do not have to sit in the hall and bid for the job at job call. They call you, send the paperwork to the hall with your name on it and you clear the hall to get your dispatch and go to work. Some companies can make that a rotary position where you will continue to come back for additional consecutive trips. If you are a Group 1, some companies can make it a permanent 2AE spot. It’s all about the contracts. In addition to direct hire, as a member you now are eligible for direct deposit for vacation pay. This is not something applicants are entitled to because New York withdraws initiation fees and all vacation checks for applicants are sent through the mail. That can take weeks sometimes. If you elect to not do direct deposit, as a member, the benefits person in the hall will cut you a check on the spot. Vacation is it own thing and I will discuss this in detail later. As a member you can also vote in union elections. This is important for many obvious reasons but mainly because it pushes the people in the halls to do all they can to help you knowing members decide at the next elections if they have a job or not. Unfortunately, some can be less than helpful at times. Either way, membership is a good thing.

If I can back up a minute, there is a provision in some contracts. (Possibly all, I don’t know) A new applicant that has never sailed with MEBA or has never taken a night job can be hired as a 3AE. The company can bring you on without the job being called out of the hall for up to 120 days for your first hitch. The is kind of like a direct hire. If on this first trip, you get a positive review and they want you back, they can have you fill an additional 270 sailing days on consecutive trips. This allows you to meet the sailing day requirements and the 25 months as an applicant for membership. This means you can sail without sitting at the hall every time you get a job until you get a permanent spot. You can cold call companies and try to get them to do this for you. Again, some, possibly all, can do this. I know for a fact OSG does this regularly with new applicants. Be warned. If you agree to this and you go to the hall to get a shipping card after you do any trips during the agreement. It voids the eligibility of bringing you back for the remaining trips.

Job call
Job call is done at specific times in all the halls all across the country. At around 11:30- Noon local time. You can look these up online. Typically, the hall closest to the port the ship will embark the crew member, is the hall they will call that job. Group status, the age of your shipping card and meeting the ship qualifications determine who gets the job. Shipping cards are a piece of paper you get when you join or after you get off a ship when you go to the hall. The date you get the card starts the clock on the card. The older the card, the better chance you have to successfully bid a job. Cards are only good for nine months. That means if you do not take a job for nine months, the card expires and you need to go to the hall and get a new card. To be awarded a job they go to Group status first. A Group 2 with a card that is eight and a half months old will lose out to any Group 1. Even if the Group 1 card is one day old. A Group 3 will lose out to an older Group 3 card or any Group 1 or 2. Applicant status does not matter when bidding against a member. All Group 3s are applicants but, a Group 2 applicant will beat out a Group 2 member for a job if his card is older. You show up before job call, hand them your Shipping card (this will have your name, the date the card was issued and your Group status) and take a seat. The dispatcher or patrolman will write the particulars of any job available on the board and at the specified time they will call the firstjob and start calling names. The more senior group member or applicant with the oldest card gets called first. If they pass on the job, they will call the next most senior group member or applicant with the second oldest card, so forth and so forth until someone takes the job. They start with the next job and do the same thing until all the jobs are called. If the job doesn’t get filled it gets called immediately at the next closest hall and if it doesn’t get filled there, it goes Open Board. In each of the halls there is a computer monitor with all open board jobs. If you meet the requirements, you can take any open board job regardless of group status or date on your card. You do not have to wait for job call to take an open board job. Some jobs you can take on a night card and you don’t even have to burn your shipping card. You can ship out and while onboard, your shipping card is aging. Be warned now. Whatever you need for the job has to be presented at job call. If you need a benzene card to take a tanker job and you left it in the car, anyone can call you out and you WILL lose that job. It happens. There is almost always another guy that wants that job and if you don’t have your documents, it’s your fault. Bring all your shit to job call. Night work is called after job call. A night card is not the same as a shipping card. You get these at the hall in person and the oldest night card gets the first choice of night work. Night work is when ships come into the port that need engineers to work after hours shifts. I know people who make a living filling night jobs. They are also a good way to spend your time while waiting to ship out. They all pay decent money and your license doesn’t matter. While some ships pay differently, a CE or a 3AE will get paid the same for that particular job. I don’t do night work but I’m pretty sure the cards never expire. I could be wrong. Check and verify. The night card is burned when you agree to work that job.

On the ship.
Be humble and respectful. With VERY few exceptions, the CE and 1AE passed the job interview a long time ago and they know what they’re doing. The 2AE is either waiting for a 1AE job to open up, he is just like you with a few trips under his belt, or somewhere in between. The takeaway, if you take a job as 3AE you need to know that you don’t know shit and don’t act like you do because “you don’t know shit”. The 3AE is the busiest guy in the department and you need to manage your time because you don’t want me to. You are the electrician. I’m not going to leave you to work on the ships electronics or troubleshoot technical problems on your own but you had better understand basic electrical. You are the Turdthird. Sewage is your bread and butter and I’m not touching it so you better embrace the shit. You are the slops guy. Make your rounds on all the tanks and give me accurate numbers or you’ll have a long hitch. Account for everything that enters and leaves these tanks because both our jobs count on it. You are responsible for electrical so the generators belong to you. Do not take one out of service without letting the 1st know beforehand and do the services when they are due without being told. Put tools away after the job and do not leave a mess. Follow safety policies and communicate to the other officers when you have questions. Do not give any other people in any department grief when they tell you their shitter is clogged or they have a light out in their stateroom. Engineers want to remain out of the spotlight and if you piss off a deckhand and he complains to the Chief Mate, who goes to the Master, who comes to me or the 1AE… well, Engineers like to stay out of the spotlight. Don’t do it. Remember, be respectful and humble. If you have a problem with another crew member, talk to the 1AE. If you have duty and you’re not sure of something and are worried about waking someone up. Wake up the 1AE and let him decide. He would rather you wake him up and not be needed than needed and not be woken up. Keep your mouth shut and your ears open. Keep a daily log of what you do and write good turnover notes. Ask questions. You’ve heard that there’s no such thing as a stupid question. That’s bullshit. They’re out there and you’ll ask them. Ask it anyway. Attitude will dictate what type of trip you have and while everyone knows you don’t know shit, you will be expected to follow instructions without having things repeated over and over. Learn what is expected of you and do it without being told. When the 1st tells you to complete something you have been told you need to be doing, like weekly oil samples or battery checks, the best answer is “I already did it”. Meeting expectations and staying within established boundaries is the game you’re playing. Learn them and meet them. The other guys will help you out but, no one wants to hold your hand. And one last thing, don’t be late. For anything. There is only one guy who knows more than anyone and it’s not you. Just ask any captain on this site. Trust me, if he won’t tell you he knows more than anyone, he’s thinking it.

If you’re thinking about shipping out with MEBA and you have questions, you can PM me. Do not PM me with questions about how you get your license or what documents you need to sail deep sea because it’s readily available online and you need everything anyone else needs.

Welcome to the fray.

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Good start. In addition to regular dues there is also vacation dues, 6% as I recall from vacation pay.

Yep. I got tired of typing. I figured I’d give them the scoop on what it took to get on. For a newbie I figured the particulars of the pay is inconsequential.

An applicant should be focused on 2 things; time in the union (to gain membership), and time on the license (to raise the license).

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I would add to your getting days on your license for upgrade. Days at sea add up quickly if you stay working but, job call can be slow at times. Take any job you can get. People want the summer and the winter holidays off. These are the best time to pick up jobs you would never get in February or March.

When it comes to Job Call it is extremely important to have ALL your documents in hand and current with you. The list is comprised of TWIC, MMC Credentials, Medical Certificate, Drug Free Certificate, Proof of being Current with regards to Dues, Proof of Government or Company specific Course requirements.

I agree, great point. I mentioned that in the job call paragraph before Night Work but it’s important enough to say it again.

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Obviously this depends on the time of the year but…

What’s a realistic wait time for a group 3 applicant trying to ship out of the hall in New Jersey? Realistically it’s looking like I’ll have my MMC in hand end of June.

Boston is closest to me (2 hours). Would it be worth going there and getting set up, Baltimore to get the physical, then down to NJ for my first job call?

Not trying to be a jerk but I have no idea, I don’t ship out of the halls. Go to the hall and ask the guys to find out typical wait times. You can look at the dispatch sheets that have all the jobs, names and groups of who took them to give you information on how many jobs are called. It’s always worth it to join and do the physical. It’s only 150.00!and the 25 months is where people wait the longest to get membership. Even if you don’t ship out right away. 150.00 here will be the best money you can spend at MEBA. I heard Boston has fewer jobs than NY. June would definitely qualify for the best time to be looking to ship out. Lots of guys want summers off. Try cold calling to see if companies can take you on as a new member for 120 days then a rotary for an additional 270 days. When you go to the hall ask the patrolman what companies are allowed to do this and call them.

Thanks for the advice, I’m pretty ready to dive head first into this. I feel like a lot of kids im graduating with just don’t have the balls to travel down to Baltimore, get the physical and then wait in a hall.

It’s all about choices. Dee Sea is not for everyone. The trips are long and the work becomes a grind at times. The days home allow you to actually do something else where you’re not thinking about the next trip at sea. You have to accept that as the new guy you’ll have to eat some crap for a while but eventually you’ll land somewhere that gives you something towards what you hoped to get when you started going to school for this. It’s up and down but in the end, after all I’ve been through. I wouldn’t do anything else

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Don’t waste your time in Boston. I was in MEBA years ago for a couple months, sitting in Boston, and every job that went open board got called in New Jersey first before it actually went open board. I never got a job there, so then I went to AMO and went to work right away.

I don’t know about east coast, but on the west coast the fly-out jobs (vessels that aren’t arriving at the local port) are called out of Oakland. As a Group III 3AE these will likely be the type of jobs that you have a good shot at. These are the Patriot contract boats, the “Green” boats (MV Green Lake, Green Ridge, Green Cove) and some other smaller contracts. Group 1s don’t want these jobs because either the pay is low, the location is bad, or they don’t pay into the pension. However, June-August would be a great time to ship and you could get luckily and land a primo gig.

It can’t be stated enough how important it is to understand which extra classes and qualifications might be required at each company. You can only get this information by asking your local dispatcher or patrolman and go from there. I believe Patriot requires damage control and small arms, which you can take through the MEBA Calhoon school.

I started recently as a Group III but with a 1AE, which helped significantly. There seem to be a lot of open board 1AE jobs out there.

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Excellent thread which should be a wealth of info to those entering the business. I do not ship out of the hall but am with the government division. I would just add to all new thirds, get a pocket notebook and keep careful track of what you did each day, particularly on overtime, and this will help you with your timesheet and turnover notes. When vacating your room, ensure that it is clean and tidy for the next person. Thank the cooks and stewards for your meals. Be on time to relieve the watch. Don’t make people call your room looking for you. Those are things that can annoy people pretty quickly.

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