Why I posted about a MEGAUNION

In a recent forum thread I asked what the world would look like if a hypothetical omnipotent American maritime union came to power. My personal responses to the posts were uncharacteristically abrasive. Why?

Partly out of frustration and partly because its my job as a gCaptain editor to push buttons.

gCaptain has grown larger and has more influence within the industry than I ever dreamed it would have. Further blogs and online media have become a much more powerful tool for change than anyone expected. And gCaptain has a lot of IOUs stored up at a gew BIG media that we have yet to use. I’m not saying this to bost and I do not want to argue these basic facts. What I do want to figure out is how to use this influence for good.

My original plan was to build gCaptain’s influence then open it up to forum members who would post articles here that we could distribute via our main site. But despite several attempts, that never happened.

So in recently evaluating the options I said, well screw it, we can just get a big loan and hire the journalists to start pushing a few common agendas ourselves.

But what adgenda do we tackle first?

I researched the threads and one topic that came up more than other is the fact that unions compete against each other. We could start by suggesting they work together for their common interest.

I thought that by creating a hypothetical MEGAUNION scenario you guys could help me flesh out the advantages of this idea for our first article but that didn’t happen. Instead the conversation devolved into a littany of problems, worries about loosing status-quo benefits and outright anger at me personally when I started poking with pointed questions.

So here’s my problem. I would like to do more to help push positive agendas. And I want to work for what YOU all want not what benefits me or gCaptain.

But how can I do that if even posts clearly marked as HYPOTHETICAL (with a wholly ridiculous title to boot) spurn scorn and accusation.

So the question is what can all us American mariners agree on? What topic can I start digging into without worrying about infighting among American industry insiders?

Or, more broadly, how (or where) do we (All American Mariners) start working together to defibrillate this Merchant Marine of ours?

P.S. I’m not intentionally excluding the international crowd here… I’d love to help you guys to but I have to start with what I know best.


Do you see yourself as a journalist or activist? Do you report the news or do you make the news?

Do you see gCaptain as having been a scuttlebutt for disparate mariners, an authority of maritime information or a social movement? Which one of these will you set a course for?

Just wondering.

The US would do well to look at Nautilus in the UK, which has now evolved into and Anglo Dutch union.

They have retirement home, job portal and the much respected Telegraph monthly newspaper which comes with free Chirp reports


Activist? No! We are doing the same thing we’ve always been doing… publishing the maritime news.

I don’t pretend to know anything about the civilian maritime industry, but I see a lot of parallels with what you’re saying in this thread and the stated intent of the United States Naval Institute. I joined USNI long before I joined the Navy for the Proceedings, their journal-caliber publication. Back when print was king officers like then-CAPT Chester Nimitz were submitting articles on shiphandling, strategy, and other areas of interest to the naval officer. Today they still publish the Proceedings (which some would say has lost its luster) but they do a lot more too, like blogs, conferences, symposiums, and sponsor SailorBob, which is gCaptain for SWOs.

Surely there are already maritime industry conventions, but has there ever been a conference specifically on lifeboats and mariner safety? Perhaps you can expend some of your clout to get union reps, USCG reps, shippers, etc. in a room for a day or two to just talk about improving survivability at sea. Or host a conference for the major unions. Get some traditional journalists to attend as well.

Maybe one day you will get to the point where you can have staffers available to do investigative journalism on behalf of mariner interests, but it isn’t something I would take a loan out for.

Guys I didn’t ask about the direction of gCaptain. I am very familiar with Nautilus and have been a USNI member for two decades and gCaptain was the organization that helped them start their blogs ten years ago.

What I am asking for is a specific topic we can all agree needs media attention.

Think Upton Sinclair.

Loans don’t worry me. gCaptain was started on a $100k spread out on my personal credit cards at eye popping interest rates.

I don’t invest in the stock market or ideas or marketing schemes or feel good events. We invest in knowledge and shared value.

Leveraging capital is safe if you know the outcome… the problem is there is no value in igniting further infighting and, while I see oceans of opportunity to improve the US merchant Marine, I don’t see how a single ship can cross that ocean without storms errupting all around it.


Think Upton Sinclair.

All the President’s Men is a little before my time but I did see Spotlight. I just don’t think there could be any issue explosive enough in the maritime industry that could rival an expose presidential misconduct, systemic abuse of children, or food supplier quality.

I am a part of an organization that last year killed 17 sailors, and continues to waste billions of taxpayer dollars on ships that don’t meet our national defense needs. And that did generate some headlines, congressional hearings, and firings/court-martials, but no meaningful reform has yet taken place that would have prevented any of it from happening again.

I would focus less what topics need media attention and more on what end-states you would like to see. It may be that media attention is less important than other forms of influence in accomplishing your goals.

MARAD - What should be the strongest advocate for a healthy (if perhaps smaller than its historical high point) sustainable merchant marine, what should be the central clearinghouse for bright ideas, funding source for reasonable subsidies, coordination point for R&D over a wide range of subjects that should in fact then be used to improve the entirety of the US Merchant Marine from personnel, to shipbuilding to ship management - is a hollowed out shell of an agency that watches over a national merchant marine in decline. As much as I would appreciate a journalistic untangling of the whole sordid mess I fear it is not much of a puzzle or mystery. It is I fear just a reflection of ill advised national priorities. No priority, no funding, no results - just keeping the lights on to watch over a RRF fleet. Last one out turn off the lights. SO NO in the end there nothing here to really blow the lid off until the nation as a whole (or whole enough) cares about making this a priority. A lot to be investigated and recommended but not Sinclair-worthy.

So what about CLASSIFICATION SOCIETIES? What about the relationship between ship owner-society-insurance companies-flag states as the implementer of international laws and port states as enforcers of international laws.

Are these relationships currently healthy? Do they allow for keeping tonnage in trade that doesn’t belong there thus affecting the remainder of the industry playing by the rules? What are the profit margins of the insurance companies? Are all class societies non-profit? Do they ever hold the societies responsible for losses? How about flag states, do they hold them responsible for the consequences of issuing certificates in their name when there is a failure?

I see class societies with ISM 9000 etc certifications. So this means auditing their systems. Do they publish the results? What are their “non-conformities”? Who do they hire as auditors? Other class societies (scratching backs)? Or are ships crews the only people being asked to live a “continuous improvement” lifestyle?

I don’t know the answers to these questions I’d love to read about the whole arrangement from its origins (probably was a good idea and served a purpose) to whatever it is now. If their purpose has morphed into issuing flag state certificates perhaps it is time to re-look at FOC arrangements and perhaps nations who cannot support internal mechanisms to supervise construction, enforce flag and international laws, well perhaps they should not be allowed to register ships.

Does the present system actually serve the original purpose (a guaranteed minimum/safe level of material condition) or have they just become a profit center of the broader finacialization of the world - many people behind desks making money by manipulation of entities, investment devices, etc.

You picked the wrong time to seek input Jon, I can’t tear myself away from the curling!


IDK, my last work of investigative journalism opened a congressional inquiry.

Obviously we aren’t going to reach Upton Sinclair’s level of influence (then again Upton Sinclair wrote an entire book about how ineffective and overrated the jungle was) but the US Merchant Marine is in the worst state it’s been in centuries and we can do good.

My freind Robert Frump certainly did.

Plus we don’t need much. Take the 4+Billion is spending on the next Zumwalt class ship, give 2 of it to the USCG and 2 of it to Marad and let them spend it at shipyards overseas… Suddenly you have a pair of heavy icebreakers and a huge array of new national security capabilities and commercial opportunities.

And I don’t mean to get political but Obama filled the single most important seat for in our industry - one that’s previously been seated by 4-star admirals and succesfull shipowners - for years with a junior congressional staffer who never set foot on the ocean… and replaced him (after the systematic sexual abuse of children) with a submariner of little note or jnfluence. If that’s not presidential misconduct, I’m really not sure what is.


Ha! In my experience yes, but not according to the shiny brochures everyone else hands out.

Did I? From what you write (of which I agree fully) it sounds like today is the perfect time.

Unlike MARAD who has never once contacted gCaptain to advocate for the American flag or anything esle… the CLASS Societies have their shit together when it comes to influence, media and power.

I don’t know if you pay attention to any of the ads posted here on gCaptain but the various CLASS societies are a BIG reason I was able to pay off those credit card bills. They know exactly how much influence we have and have solid plans to meet it head on.

That is NOT to say that CLASS has bought a free pass (my last el faro article proves otherwise) or even my cooperation but going after them head on would require deep pockets.

Plus there is a LOT of low lying fruit around. What about CLASS’s real puppetmasters… shipyards? Is the astronomical price of building and repairing a US flagged ship and the requirements to do so under the Jones Act the #1 cause of the decline of the merchant marine? I think so but my shipyard posts here on the forum don’t seem to get much traction.

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Jon - I would add that the union topic remains worthy of consideration despite the reaction on the other thread. Until someone points out the true pros and cons of the idea it will remain in the realm of knee-jerk winners/loser discussion. In other words - for now - one should not get hung up on HOW the unification would come about BUT (as you asked) WHAT would it look like? I’m not a union member and I’m staring at retirement so I rely on reading about the union way for 2nd or 3rd hand information. I may be reacting only to my emotions and perceptions not a whole lot of facts but…

Does the omni-union concept represent only increased power for unionized mariners wielding the mighty strike stick or are there actually pros for the ship owner too? A single master contract, a known (and presumably fair) pay scale available to owners to allow them to have reasonable expectations of terms and costs before crewing a ship or planning fleet expansions.

This sort of outcome would presume good intent, long view, fairness on the behalf of the notional omni-union as well. Is it possible to have a less knee-jerk confrontational relationship between union and owner with a common goal of a healthy merchant marine industry? Of course good will and trust are not guaranteed on either parties part so I’m probably dreaming. I have a feeling it would be easier if the nature of ship owners was more like it used to be. Family owned or tightly held not part of international conglomerates - run by people who had a notion of what happens on a ship as opposed to a perhaps strictly financially orientated management team (admittedly which could include people ostensibly with maritime experience that seem to lose IQ points when they put on a $1000 dollar suit).

Others have pointed out such a union could have an impact in the area of “professional development” training, re-validation / refresher training, etc. Could also be an active or more active and strong contributor to the USCG on matters before IMO.

These seem matters worthy of investigation, if not by a journalistic inquiry maybe by a R&D grant to a organization suitable to conduct such a study.

Just two more cents for you.

How do you think they would do in an environment that includes the Taft–Hartley Act?

The Labor Management Relations Act of 1947 29 U.S.C. § 141-197 better known as the Taft–Hartley Act, (80 H.R. 3020, Pub.L. 80–101, 61 Stat. 136, enacted June 23, 1947) is a United States federal law that restricts the activities and power of labor unions.

Or Right to Work Laws?

Right-to-work laws are statutes in 28 U.S. states that prohibit union security agreements between companies and workers’ unions.

Or in a place where Operation Dixie failed?

Operation Dixie was the name of the post-World War II campaign by the Congress of Industrial Organizations to unionize industry in the Southern United States, particularly the textile industry. Launched in the spring of 1946, the campaign ran in 12 Southern states and was undertaken as part of a dual effort to consolidate wage gains won by the trade union movement in the Northern United States by raising wage levels in the South while simultaneously transforming the conservative politics of the region, thereby allowing the trade union agenda to win on a national scale.

Operation Dixie failed largely due to Jim Crow laws and the deep-seated racial strife in the South which made it difficult for black workers and poor whites to engage cooperatively for successful union organization.

It probably wouldn’t be easy to get a functioning union under the present laws, political climate and attitudes among a large proportion of the US workforce, never mind the mariners.

It is apparently easier to tell other countries that they have to allow freedom of organization than to implement it at home.

^^^ Nobody take the bait and we’ll all be better off ^^^


There’s a line between reporting the news and making the news. Once a journalist starts advocating they risk their reputation as an impartial broker. You are looking for a cause to advance. That makes me question why. Are you following your concious or are you following the lead of donners and sponsors. I’m sure you see the conflict.

You know the union issue is an ugly one in the maratime industry. The Gulf folks think a union is just plain bad, Southerners and Republicans tend to think unions are bad. So by advocating this Megaunion idea you’ve just sided against half your readers. It looks like the road to advocate journalism (a.k.a. lobbying). Even the pro-union folks will disagree about Megaunion. So half of those that agree will disagree. Quite a mess.

That’s why I asked.

Other than hou… Who said anything about advocating?

Yes, I worked in the Gulf dor a decade. I understand the political climate.


2 posts were merged into an existing topic: Megacorp Union