Liberty Maritime Decision Sparks Fierce Labor Union Dispute – Things Are Getting Ugly

Mike Schuler
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October 2, 2011

Liberty Maritime Corporation has found themselves in the midst of a heated labor union dispute after the company somewhat abruptly ended its long-standing labor relationship with the Marine Engineers Beneficial Association (M.E.B.A) union, entering into a contract with the American Maritime Officers (AMO) to man its vessels instead.

Despite several months of negotiations with Liberty Maritime and M.E.B.A.’s agreement-in-principle to the terms of a new contract, M.E.B.A. and Liberty Maritime could not reach an ultimate agreement and ended their 22-year relationship as of midnight September 30.  Liberty Maritime has since signed a collective bargaining agreement with the AMO, locking out M.E.B.A. members from working on its vessels and replacing them with AMO officers.

As you can imagine, the decision made by Liberty Maritime does not sit well with M.E.B.A.

“Liberty Maritime has turned its back on the employees and the Union that have delivered great service since the inception of the company,” said M.E.B.A. President Mike Jewell.

In a written request to AMO members, M.E.B.A.’s Jewell pleaded for “union solidarity” and requested that AMO members to not “cross the picket line”.

“Liberty Maritime’s actions in locking out the M.E.B.A. officers and entering into a contract with the AMO is neither fair nor respectful to the mariners who have given excellent service to the company since its inception.” Jewell wrote in the letter.  “Liberty’s actions are only meant to divide the labor movement at a time when working men and women are under attack on all fronts. Therefore, I am personally appealing to you to not cross our picket line that we have set up to protest Liberty’s despicable actions.”

Jewell added: “This fight is between the M.E.B.A. and the company, not between labor unions. Please stand with us during this struggle and support us. Your leadership may encourage you to cross our picket line, I ask you to hold firm with us in Union Solidarity.”

AMO on the other hand, is happy with its new contract and has no plans on abiding by M.E.B.A.’s plea’s.

AMO National President Tom Bethel said in an AMO statement: “The fact remains the MEBA leadership was unable to come to terms with the company and secure an agreement despite having, as they said, several months to resolve the issues on the table. Liberty simply chose AMO as the superior option.”

“I am proud to be bringing these jobs to the AMO membership, proud that our union is manning these ships for continued service in the U.S.-flag fleet,” Bethel added.

UPDATE: In an update to written response, Mike Jewell criticised Bethel, saying he has “misled” his membership and cited a June incident where AMO members working for American Steamship Company (ASC) went on strike after a contract with the company expired.  Ultimately ASC and AMO reached an agreement shortly thereafter, but Bethel makes it clear that in that incident, “the M.E.B.A. and all other maritime labor unions did not interfere.” The update from M.E.B.A. also says that AMO members have started to walk off Liberty vessels in support of M.E.B.A.

Late Friday afternoon in the Port of Galveston, Texas, a Liberty Maritime Corporation management official walked off the vessel and drove over to the information booth that M.E.B.A. had begun setting up. This person said: “I just spoke with Liberty in New York, and told them I am not going to be part of this – I respect what you folks have to do, good luck.”

On Saturday evening, two U.S. mariners walked off the vessel in Galveston, Texas with their sea bags packed and draped over their shoulders. They had not even been on the vessel for 24 hours yet and obviously they had had enough. This morning, another U.S. mariner walked off the vessel with his sea bag packed and draped over his shoulder. He exited the gate with a nod to the picketers and off he went.

As of October 1, American Maritime Officers members replaced M.E.B.A. members on four of Liberty Maritime’s ships.  A fifth vessel is currently undergoing maintenance in a shipyard overseas and once completed, will be manned by AMO as well. The vessels include the M/V Liberty Glory, M/V Liberty Sun, M/V Liberty Spirit, M/V Liberty Eagle, and M/V Liberty Grace.

Join the discussion on this story in the gCaptain forum HERE. 


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