Union Productivity

We have had a few really good threads about unions but no e have mentioned a critical point.

I talk with a lot of shipping execs, port officials and finance guys… and they all have the same #1 concern about union labor.

Low productivity.

I’ve worked union ships and, on some tough jobs, I know that on some dirty jobs its hard to convince the crew to work overtime even with with bonus rates. And observe any port or construction site in America and you will find many guys propping up fences.

I’m not saying that all union guys drag their feet but the executives I talk claim that they do… and it’s that lack of work ethic (Not high wages, law suits or benefits) that keeps them away from building ships in US shipyards and hiring American union crews.

Is this a fair complaint? If it is, what can be done by unions to improve productivity?

regardless of “union”, or “non union” the motivating factor of getting someone to be at a certain place at a certain time to complete a task is a factor of money. Motivating people to “work harder” or faster is the job of supervisors, managers ect…

Labor always wants to earn top dollar for as little work as possible, ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD, Executives want the most work for less money, ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD. Of course you’ll hear both sides complain. It depends on which side of the coin you find yourself.

Productivity is an interesting way to put it, rate of out put versus rate of input, sounds like “labor and wages” to me…

non union worker = union worker ; both have the same goals, education, body, ect,…

If a company has a"productivity" problem, i think it lies with the managers and supervisors. It seems they have issue not with the work completed, but the price they are paying for the work.

"Our merchants and master-manufacturers complain much of the bad effects of high wages in raising the price, and thereby lessening the sale of their goods both at home and abroad. They say nothing concerning the bad effects of high profits. They are silent with regard to the pernicious effects of their own gains."
Wealth of Nations. Smith


Next time you talk to US company execs, finance guys etc. ask them why European shipyards are eating US shipyards lunch while employing almost 100% union workers. Also ask them how the US executive compensation compares to their European counter parts.
It has always been amusing to me to know that by law in many countries outside the USA union membership is represented on the company board of directors yet the companies seem to do very well. To hear US corporations talk it should not be possible for a company to make a profit and let workers have a voice in the company.


Have you been to a Korean shipyard? I challenge you to find more than one person not working between breaks!

Have you been to a korean shipyard during union negotiations? If you go you will see men bleeding in the streets.

Now they DO negotiate for more family time (shorter hours, more holidays, ect) and they get it too but they don’t negotiate to do less work while on the job.

I’ve been in a union for my entire career and can’t say I fully agree with all the clauses in the contracts. I show up to work and get things done. Not everyone feels the same way, but it has allowed me to advance my career faster than others that haven’t shown much initiative or have been “pains in the ass.”

I agree that the attitude toward work ethic starts from the top down. If the first engineer or chief officer aren’t properly supervising (I.e. not giving the crew the feeling that they will appear at any moment and want to see progress on the job) there will be very little productivity. Because, what’s the point? I don’t think this is exclusive to unions.

What is exclusive to unions is the fact that I could fire a guy for poor performance on Monday and he might have the same job on one of the sister ships within the same week. This seems to lead to a “who gives a shit” attitude for some folks. Work ethic is work ethic. I got mine fetching tools from my dads truck on plumbing jobs when I was 10. Others apparently never got one, but that is not in my opinion what unions attract.


I’m surprised at that. I have been under the impression that once fired they couldn’t come back for a year. I’ve never fired someone and had them back aboard.

In any case it’s simply a matter of contract language, the union certainly doesn’t benefit from having bad actors.

I do know for a fact that captains will claim to have fired someone when in fact they gave them a choice of getting off or being fired. I have been told by my opposite that he fired someone only to have them come back. But when I call the company, no they were not fired.

The point is that fucking off is miserable. I know because I spent the first few of years aboard ship avoiding work and time went by really really slow, I always had to watch my back and was generally unhappy and stressed.

Once I became an officer and started busting out work I started to live my job. Getting shit sone gives you a real sense of accomplishment. Vactation times feels better too because you feel like you really earned it.

Of course this isn’t a union thing but it might be a cultural thing. I’ve observed a few other cultures with high productivety levels and they appear to be happier and leas stressed than the average blue collar american.

People don’t like to be micro-managed.

Google productivity and autonomy.

However, studies show work environments that are more autonomous in nature have not only higher job satisfaction, but also better productivity

Ao it’s a managment issue? Do we need to teach productivity and autonomy in MBA classes?

I sailed union for my entire career. In the capacity of C/E I viewed the implementation and enforcement of the contract part and parcel of my job description. That said, I did not negotiate what was in the contract. The contract was agreed to by the company and union. It was also not up to me to disregard parts or contract changes that I, or my engineers and crew might not like. In this regard I probably had the reputation of being a hard ass.

At the same time I endeavored to instill a work ethic and performance aboard ship to show shoreside we could deliver a bang for the buck and make the case for us being there. Not be just a contractual necessity.

If company executives like to complain about the union and its contracts, why did they agree to it. Yes, I know that might have been the hand they were dealt but often they make little or no effort to make any changes going forward.


With regards to quality of work; I once told a 3rd to redo a job he had just finished. He complained and asked why since it “worked”. I asked him if he was paying for someone to do that at his house would he accept that. After a few moments he said “No, probably not”. Then why should I, fix it right…He did.

Often they didn’t.

Maersk flat out refuses to put their largest ships in American ports because the discharge rate is too slow. They didn’t sign the union contracts, the ports did.

Shipowners don’t want to build or repair in american shipyards because deadlines are often not met. They didn’t sign the union contracts, shipyard managers did.

Guys offshore often don’t want to hand their ships over to union because the union contracts offer less than what they already get. They didn’t sign the contracts.

Ports often don’t want to expand because construction costs and timelines are too long. They didn’t sign those contracts, the construction companies did.

You have that correct. They can’t come back to your ship for one year, but they can jump on any other ship in the fleet like nothing happened. Granted, if they are canned for something egregious like drinking or a couple firings in quick succession, they’re out for good, but I’ve been shocked at some of the doozies I’ve seen “retreaded” in the past.

I’ve also seen the “I fired that guy” situation when in actuality they were allowed to quit because it was easier. I almost got saddled with a problem chief mate because of this and when I called the captain from the ship he was attempting to transfer from he told me he thought the guy understood he wasn’t welcome. I asked what kind of documentation he had on the guy and all he could do was describe several instances that were all L.O.W. Worthy but he hadn’t bothered to do the work. I was pissed. We have been friends for years and told him it felt like he was personally screwing me over by not doing his job. You were right in your earlier post @Kennebec_Captain. If everyone did their job and followed protocol, there wouldn’t be these problems.



I’m not sure that it’s a union issue. I don’t want to ruffle feathers, but a lot of the younger set does not like to get dirty. I have always been a hard worker. I screw off on occasion but my work always gets done. I did a lot of confined space work on my last hitch. The ship was in port and there was tank cleaning to do, and I jumped right on it. I am an officer and it was nice to make dirty pay for jobs like that and a couple jobs under the deckplates. I am a MEBA applicant with enough time to submit for membership, if that’s at all pertinent.

I am in my late 50’s and doing jobs a lot of people half my age whine about, and I have seen this going on everywhere, not just in shipping.


You hear this a lot but I tend to agree with proposition put forth by the book below. It suggests it’s not all about the money. If pay levels are perceived as fair (not an insignificant assumption) the work force is more likely to be motivated to high levels of performance by intrinsic factors - like autonomy, mastery, purpose.

Many people I would have said are motivated by only money aren’t worth a damn. There really is some good science behind this. Unfortunately shipboard management often does not have power to either pay people fairly or set up work flow to take advantage of intrinsic motivations. It would be more effective if ship owners and executive levels of management would buy into these principles.

One could read this

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Yes i have been to Korean shipyards, and american, and Singapore, and European. I do not understand your questions or comment?

And your comparing apples to oranges, a worker in Korea is a worker in Korea, not the United States, Where are you going with this?

My comments were simply economics, and the work you do on the job is the responsibility of supervisors, and managers. Poor industries with poor habits make costly products and eventually go out of business or become efficient and survive.In my opinion

“Of course this isn’t a union thing but it might be a cultural thing. I’ve observed a few other cultures with high productivety levels and they appear to be happier and leas stressed than the average blue collar american.”

I think a lot of it is cultural, not necessarily union or non-union.
However, unlike Europe, the USA has laws that forbid union representation on company’s board of directors. Sad to say, unions AND management like this prohibition. It allows BOTH to blame the other side.

Also, in the cultural part, Europeans and Asians understand better who their competitors are.
Americans still seem to think it’s the guy down the street.
This is where Trump is not helping the American worker, but instead screwing him.

60% of car parts are made in USA for cars manufactured in Mexico and Canada. We force that stuff out of Mexico, it’s not coming here, it’s going to China.
And China doesn’t buy any car parts from USA.

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MEBA is not a Union. It steals overtime from MFOW and fails to order parts. There is little excellence at sea.

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Steals overtime? I don’t know your contract but are you referring to “sailors work” being done by officers? Write it in as a beef with your union. If not, the First Engineer under authorization by the Chief should have every right to use the best people available to accomplish the particular jobs. I highly doubt the Second Assistant is cleaning a bilge or painting a deck as much as I doubt that the wiper is rebuilding a fuel pump or purifier. Finally, in my experience there is typically overtime available to those who produce on straight time. If someone isn’t getting the job done during the regular workday, why should the ship pay them to not get the job done at time and a half? Not saying this is you but it may be beneficial to look at.

As for ordering parts. Are you being told by the officers that they are refusing to order parts? I’ve seen engine parts with 6 to 8 month lead times so they might be in the pipeline. I’ve also seen port engineers that drag their heals on approving requisitions or flat out cancel them due to budget concerns. Trust me, no one likes when this happens, including your MEBA engineers. Unless you have a log in that allows you into the maintenance system where you can see if the parts were ordered, these are major accusations to make.

I’m not MEBA. Just giving you a few points from the ‘management’ perspective.


People conflate crew problems with “union bullshit” thinking that if there was no contract there would be no crew problems.

Getting rid of the process to manage “beefs” is not going to get rid of crew problems.