Association for Union Democracy

MEBA Bylaws Change Provokes Debate Between AMO and MEBA officials

By Shane Mott

One thing all US Maritime industry graduates and workers will have in common is the seeking out of union representation. Following are updates on two of the largest options for maritime workers: Marine Engineers’ Beneficial Association (MEBA), International Organization of Masters and American Maritime Officers (AMO).

In MEBA’s April newsletter the Tellex Times reported that members had approved three changes to their bylaws. About 65 percent of voting members supported a modest dues increase, almost 81 percent supported a Gulf Coast realignment, and close to 82 percent approved four-year terms, instead of three-year terms, for elected officials. Beginning on July 1, 2016 the dues increase will take effect. Soon after the changes were approved, Paul Doell, the National President of the AMO, wrote an article summarizing MEBA’s changes and took the opportunity to show how the AMO compared favorably with MEBA vis-a-vis the changes1.

Doell says that “The MEBA dues hike — voted upon only by MEBA members already paying the highest rate — amounts to $50 per quarter, bringing the annual total from $400 to $600.” Doell contends that AMO does not have “unnecessary” overhead through renting its headquarter space since it owns its building in Florida. Doell trumpeted the AMO’s jobs dispatch system. Workers are “assigned to jobs from their homes by telephone, with job openings and registration lists posted daily to a secure members-only section of the AMO Dispatching website.” This is in contrast to MEBA’s “encumbrance of hiring halls” and their associated rental and maintenance costs.

Phillip Sistrunk, Gulf Coast Vice President of MEBA and now a candidate for MEBA President responded to Doell. Sistrunk acknowledged that AMO’s dues are lower than MEBA’s but the argument is misleading, as MEBA operates at roughly $1700 less per member than the AMO per year. Sistrunk disputes Doell’s assertion that hiring halls act as an encumbrance. Sistrunk champion’s having actual union hiring halls, as it allows local representation and a physical presence. Sistrunk criticizes the AMO telephone style dispatch system, asking whether a prospective member would: “rather sit by the phone wishing for a call that may or may never come or become involved with a dynamic brotherhood and sisterhood environment that fosters the sharing of professional information and democratic principles where all have an equal voice and opportunity?”

In Labor History, Spring 1960, AUD’s Herman Benson reviewed The Maritime Story: A Study in Labor-Management Relations by Joseph P. Goldberg. While recounting the rise of maritime unionism, Benson noted that “If any single theme runs through this book it is the irrepressible demand of the seaman for full citizenship, a striving that was inseparable from his struggles for unionism and his demand for a hiring hall.”

Today’s unions are still struggling with this critical aspect of of union life Some unions, such as the Plumbers, and Carpenters, in New York City, have eliminated their own hiring halls, while some like MEBA stick to the traditional hiring hall union as a physical office, while others like AMO have virtualized some aspects to the telephone and online. But it is the trustworthiness of the person dispensing jobs whether on the phone, online or behind a desk. Hiring halls, wherever they may reside can either buttress or weaken unions and their democracy solely on their levels of trustworthiness, or inversely, corruption.

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