I sailed both union and non-union. I didn’t find a big difference between union and the better non-union companies. The pay, benefits and schedule were close enough that for me it came down to personal preference in the equipment and locations over anything else. I worked for some not-so-better non union companies too and there was definitely a huge difference in all of the above. I think it largely comes down to personal preferences and the overall package.
I got hired by the company and joined SIU later, never could get anyone to take my initiation money though. The company said to pay the union directly and the union said the company would deduct it from my check. Nobody did either and I never paid. Still get my union newspaper though.
I’ve been on hawser boats, wire boats and ATBs. I was over an over 40 engineer doing as much deck work as engineer, pulling in the hawser at 2am off Sandy Hook in January with 6ft side-to seas … not fun at the time but worth it for the sea stories. The Captain asked me once if it bothered me doing deck work, cooking and cleaning as an Academy grad and a licensed CE. I shrugged my shoulders and said I’m just a promoted deckhand. He laughed and said “me too”.