Liberty Maritime Changes Union Affiliation
MEBA accuses operator of creating labor dispute and delaying important cargoes. AMO enters into new collective bargaining agreement with Liberty.
On Monday, Liberty Maritime Corporation announced that it had entered into a new collective bargaining agreement with the American Maritime Officers (AMO) union under which the AMO will provide U.S. citizen licensed deck officers and engineers to Liberty Maritime for the operation of five U.S.-flag dry bulk carriers effective October 1, 2011. Previously subject to a collective bargaining agreement with Marine Engineers Beneficial Association, District No. 1-PCD (MEBA), that contract expired on September 30, 2011. According to a prepared Liberty statement, MEBA will continue to provide deck officers and engineers on the three U.S. flag Pure Car/Truck Carrier vessels (PCTCs) operated by Liberty pursuant to a separate collective bargaining agreement between Liberty Maritime and the MEBA. But, the change in manning agreements to the bulk vessels leaves Liberty at odds with MEBA, which claims that Liberty did not act in good faith.
Philip Shapiro, President and CEO of Liberty Maritime, said in a prepared statement, “We worked many months with the MEBA to try to reach a new agreement, and as late as three days before the prior agreement was due to expire, the MEBA called to say the Union was not interested in our proposal. Although we are saddened that we could not work out a mutually beneficial arrangement with the MEBA, we remain proud of our long and productive relationship with the Union and salute the professionalism of its members.”
MEBA, however, countered with their version of what happened. “M.E.B.A. listened to Liberty and took all their economic and government affairs arguments into consideration. We agreed that now is not the time for a labor dispute and accepted Liberty’s final economic proposal,” said M.E.B.A. President Mike Jewell from the picket line in Louisiana. "When we conveyed this acceptance to Liberty the silence on the other end of the phone from CEO Philip Shapiro was deafening. We later learned that Liberty had signed a contract with the AMO.”
Thomas Keenan, Executive Vice President of Marine Operations for Liberty, echoed Shapiro’s comments, adding, “Contrary to what MEBA has publicly asserted, we offered increases in wages and in contributions to MEBA’s defined contribution retirement plan in exchange for freezing their defined benefit retirement plan. We remain convinced that their members would have been better off under our proposal than the Union’s proposal. For the record, at no time has Liberty Maritime ever sought to “lock out” MEBA members. We proposed pay increases, but in the end, we did not reach agreement because we simply could not bridge our economic and other differences prior to the expiration of the existing contract.” Keenan added that the transition to AMO union affiliation and ship’s officers has been smooth. Nevertheless, a MEBA press release claims that some of the ships were experiencing problems.
MEBA officials, in an e-mailed release, told Marinelink this week that “Members of the Marine Engineers’ Beneficial Association (M.E.B.A.) union began peacefully protesting on Saturday, October 1 at 12:01 a.m. after Liberty locked them out. Since the company’s inception, M.E.B.A. engineers and deck officers have operated Liberty’s vessels and transported humanitarian and important cargo to third world countries in need of assistance.”
MEBA further contends that the dispute started over contract negotiations that began several months ago. Beyond this, says MEBA’s prepared statement, “Despite months of negotiations and the fact that the MEBA agreed in principle to the terms of a new contract, Liberty signed a collective bargaining agreement with the American Maritime Officers (AMO) union. As soon as the M.E.B.A. employees were locked out from the ships, picket lines were set-up at the ports of Galveston and Beaumont in Texas and New Orleans, LA, where the Liberty bulk cargo carriers were docked. Members of the AMO crossed the picket line and boarded the ships that M.E.B.A. members had exclusively manned for 23 years.”
Mr. William G. Miossi, labor counsel to Liberty Maritime, sees it differently. “The MEBA represented officers are supervisors and, as such, they are not covered by the National Labor Relations Act. Although Liberty Maritime had no legal obligation to bargain with this Union upon expiration of their contract, we nevertheless negotiated with the MEBA in a sincere effort to reach new terms.” He continued, “It is our view that the MEBA’s picketing of Liberty Maritime operated vessels and other actions violate federal labor law.” Meanwhile, Liberty says that they have filed appropriate Unfair Labor Practice Charges against the MEBA with the National Labor Relations Board.
For its part, MEBA officials contend that their officers have for years worked aboard Liberty vessels supporting humanitarian efforts and U.S. economic and national security goals by carrying important agriculture cargo. And, they allege that cargoes may now fall behind delivery schedules because the current crews had trouble starting the main engines on the ships docked in Louisiana and Texas. According to MEBA itself, there was no timetable for how long the picketing of Liberty’s ships would continue. In a prepared statement, they said, “…members in Texas and Louisiana are prepared to keep protesting in order to highlight this injustice.”