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Posted: March 5, 2014

The business of leadership and the success of AMO

By Tom Bethel
National President

This month, AMO members may notice a new name in our union's directory. Christian Spain has formally joined the administration as national assistant vice president for government relations, working with Mike Murphy.

For those who don't know him, Christian is an LMSR captain who had sailed as master aboard the USNS Soderman since May of 2008. He lives in the Washington, D.C. area and during his vacation time had been working with Mike on a part-time basis over the past several months.

Christian's employment as a union official doesn't mean Mike has imminent plans to retire, but it does serve as an example of prudent and professional preparation. As many in our union are aware, the job Mike does as AMO's national vice president for government relations is complex and involves constant interaction with multiple federal agencies that have jurisdiction over various aspects of the U.S. merchant marine and maritime industry, as well as intense engagement on the international level as a committee chairman for the International Transport Workers' Federation, and through it, a voice for merchant mariners in the International Maritime Organization.

None could be expected to master the responsibilities, skills and subtleties of this position quickly or easily, so my administration has taken the necessary steps to ensure that, when Mike does leave office, it will be possible for him to leave it in good hands.

The seagoing membership of American Maritime Officers has long held a well-earned reputation for unrivaled ability, dedication and professionalism in the U.S. maritime industry. In recent years, the AMO administration has likewise become known for consistent and responsible leadership. Both are tremendous assets to our union's success in maintaining a strong and diverse employment base and securing new jobs and opportunities for AMO members.

Every merchant vessel represents an immense investment and every ship operator has a powerful interest in making sure the best officers and crews available are manning their ships. These companies also want to know they are dealing with capable labor leaders and unions with reliable records of outstanding performance, as well as established access to required training and certification programs for mariners working aboard a variety of vessels across a broad range of trades.

Our union's ability to consistently exceed these and other standards sets AMO apart among U.S. officers' unions, as does our unique approach to effective administration.

The AMO National Executive Board currently includes seven elected positions, a number that will be reduced to six at the beginning of 2015. Relative to other officers' unions, and to previous AMO administrations, our business model is lean and efficient, allowing AMO to maintain a solid core of institutional knowledge and know-how while remaining a truly democratic organization in service to the membership.

As a result, every AMO official must be sharp, experienced, aggressive and ready to wear more than one hat while working to protect the best interests of AMO members and families on multiple fronts.

In this regard, preparations have been made to ensure the expertise upon which our union depends can be carried forward in other key positions for the next generation of AMO members.

AMO National Assistant Vice President Danny Shea continues to work with AMO National Executive Vice President Bob Kiefer in negotiating contracts and in preparing labor packages in response to requests for proposals. Like Mike Murphy, Bob does not have imminent retirement plans, but he does lead one of the most important and challenging departments in our union and possesses an enormous amount of insight and information that must be passed along to preserve.

AMO Senior National Assistant Vice President Brian Krus has worked for several years with officials and staff to build a strong base of experience and expertise in the responsibilities of an AMO official serving the membership on the Great Lakes. At the end of December 2014, planned budget reductions are scheduled to take effect that will reduce the staff in Toledo to one union official, a dispatcher and an administrative assistant, placing the AMO operation on the Great Lakes in proper proportion to the number of members presently served directly by our office in Ohio. Don Cree and Stan Barnes will be retiring this year and the position of national vice president, Great Lakes, currently held by John Clemons, will be eliminated. Brian is now prepared to assume their duties and responsibilities. Should future developments warrant it, our Great Lakes operation can be expanded to meet new demand.

Additionally, AMO National Assistant Vice President Dave Weathers is working with AMO National Vice President, Deep Sea, Joe Gremelsbacker to gain greater exposure to addressing the needs of AMO members sailing in all deep-sea trades. Again, Dave's involvement is not an indication of an imminent retirement for Joe, but it does reflect the volume and variety of issues that an AMO official serving in this position must be prepared to handle adeptly, as well as the need for expertise and valuable insight to be shared and sustained.

All of us are participants in a democratic organization and the AMO membership will always have the final say as to who will serve at the core of our union's leadership.

Just as it is the responsibility of every official to contribute to AMO's stability and status as an officers' union to which companies will continue to feel confident bringing new vessels and new jobs, it is an exercise of responsible leadership to ensure all AMO members have access to reliable representation and the ongoing option of entrusting individual professional interests to an experienced and able administration.

As always, I welcome your questions and comments. Please feel free to call me on my cell phone at (202) 251-0349.