I come from the Midwestern town of Green Bay, Wisconsin. It’s a small but proud town of cheese loving packer fans. Growing up in Green Bay, I graduated high school in 2009. At the time, Green Bay was facing the economic uncertainty that the most of the United States was feeling. Financing large amounts of student debt to go to college while I was undecided on what to do did not seem like a smart idea. I was faced with the very common problem many American young adults and parents are forced to deal with.
One day while studying online with my father on potential careers paths for after high school we ran into an apprentice work program. It was funded jointly by a labor organization and the companies that rely on that same workforce. This school gives people the opportunity through hard work to earn a free education and employs them in the lucrative but demanding US shipping industry. After some research I felt like this program might be the right direction for me. The education begins with an academy style program that teaches people the basic required classes for safety and security of working on US commercial and government ships and then sends you out on the contracted vessels as a working apprentice. While on board that commercial or government vessel the students has the opportunity to work in each of the three departments of galley, deck and engine over a three month tour. When the student returns to the school, he or she makes a decision on what department they would like to begin entering. The school then begins to trains that sailor for the job in the department they have chosen. When the sailor completes the program in about one to one and half years’ time, the sailor now has education and experience in the department they’ll be working in. It helps ensure the sailor enters that company’s vessel with experience and education. This in return benefits the company immensely because they know the labor force they receive is ready for the job in this demanding industry.
The free education and upgrading comes provided by the dues collected from members and the supporting shipping industry. An example of a symbiotic relationship between labor and a specialized industry working together for mutual benefit. The Seafarers International Union in collaboration with the US based shipping industry supports the free education of mariners into the industry and enables them to climb the latter from entry level to masters of the ships and engineering spaces of vessels. The opportunities provided through this industry are direct results of the Jones Act.
This information most likely leads to the question then of “What is the Jones Act?” The US merchant marine act of 1920 dictates that cargo moving from one American port to another is moved on a ship built in the United States and crewed by a 75 percent US citizen crew. It contributes to our economy and security by keeping our ship building capacity operational and sailors who are qualified and competent to navigate safely on our vessels. The act reaches further than this as well.
Our armed forces rely on the support of the US Merchant Mariners who work on Military Sealift Command vessels. Many sailors in our industry work in the government division full time in support of the military. The rest of the civilian mariners qualified for vessels work in the private commercial fleet. Part of our commitment as a US Merchant Mariner is the commitment to the United States in times of war. In times of large conflict, more ships need to be called out to transport our supplies and to maintain are naval fleets. As a benefit for maintaining our own base of high quality mariners, our commercial fleet of sailors can be called upon to man those ships when we need them most. You may have never heard of us, but we have always been there for our country when we are needed. If we lost the Jones Act not only would our economy be affected to outsourcing, but we would jeopardize our militaries ability to conduct in threatening waters with foreign crews operating our vessels.
This industry gave me the opportunity to educate and employ myself at the cost of hard work and dedication. In return we’ve provided the security that our service men and women operating overseas have the qualified manpower in the industry supporting them when and wherever needed. My first opportunity came on my very first vessel in the apprentice program. In 2010, I sailed on the M/V Alliance Norfolk for 128 days. I sailed the US Eastern Seaboard in support of the war efforts in the Middle East. On this route it required us to sail through the pirated waters of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden into some potentially dangerous ports such as Iraq and Yemen. Standing Pirate watch was a unique experience to say the least. Without a doubt though, the security I felt on that vessel working with the professional crew reinforced my belief that we were ready for whatever came at us. Our company brought on a professional group of individuals to secure our safety in hot waters. Our crew had emergency plans that we regularly rehearsed to ensure we would work as a unit in potential situations. We were ready to handle the situations we needed to because the Jones Act made sure that the United States Merchant Marine is always ready to rise to the challenge.
Five years later I have sailed all over the world from the Middle East to a cruise ship in Hawaii. I’ve spent the majority of my time though working on the great lakes on vessels that move iron ore for our steel industry. Sailor’s schedules can demand months’ work at a time and return earn months of vacation. With these large amounts of vacation time I started traveling in my time off. I met a girl, a Swedish one to be exact. I met her on a bus tour while I was traveling through New Zealand. Ever since then, she slowly lured me away from the sea. I now live in Sweden and am going to Jönköping University studying International Economics and Policy. I’ve been able to make money while my wife Lina finished her college education and now she works while I’m going to school. Sailing has enabled me to discover who I am and give me the confidence to pursue my dreams. Even now as I am exiting the industry I still feel compelled to write about it and to advocate it. It has given all of us so much benefit we need to protect it for our future generations.
Our democratic system has repeatedly shown us how difficult our range of opinions can slow our elective governments’ ability to operate. This leads me to why I’m advocate the Jones Act to you as the reader. There is a current effort to remove the Jones Act with the passing of the Keystone pipeline bill. In this essay I am not advocating political ideology but rather attempting to reach a mutual understanding and agreement for the Jones Act. For national security issues to the economic benefits our economy gains from this bill, we should all be able to find common ground on why this bill matters to us. My story is just one of the countless stories of American’s all over who have been able earn to earn the opportunity to succeed from this industry. Protecting our ship builders and shipping operators from outsourcing is the equivalent protecting our values as Americans. The belief that success will be rewarded to those who overcome the challenges and obstacles in their lives is something that we all believe in as Americans. This industry still sustains these American beliefs by providing economic opportunities to all Americans regardless of gender, race, or creed. We need your support to raise awareness of our industry in our time of need.