As Marine Engineers' Beneficial Association (MEBA District 1) members picketed its ships, Liberty Maritime Corporation of Lake Success, N.Y., today announced that it has entered into a new collective bargaining agreement with the American Maritime Officers (AMO) maritime 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. Those vessels had previously been subject to a collective bargaining agreement between Liberty Maritime and the Marine Engineers Beneficial Association, District No. 1-PCD (MEBA), which expired September 30, 2011.
Liberty said that MEBA will continue to provide deck officers and engineers on tthree 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.
MEBA is taking the position that its members have been locked out by Liberty Maritime. It termed AMO's signing of a collective bargaining agreement with the company a "despicable action." MEBA national President, Mike Jewell wrote AMO members saying: "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."
Needless to say, Liberty Maritime and the AMO leadership see things a little differently.
Mr. Philip J. Shapiro, President and CEO of Liberty Maritime, said: "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."
Mr. Thomas F. Keenan, Executive Vice President of Marine Operations for Liberty Maritime, added: "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."
Regarding Liberty Maritime's new AMO union affiliation, Mr. Keenan said: "We are all impressed with the smooth transition that has taken place with our new AMO represented officers.
Mr. Shapiro added: "We are delighted that so many of the our prior MEBA-represented officers have contacted the Company seeking opportunities to continue working aboard the vessels that Liberty Maritime operates. "
Mr. Shapiro concluded: "We are looking forward to a long and productive relationship with the AMO and to continue working with the MEBA on our PCTCs."
Mr. William G. Miossi, labor counsel to Liberty Maritime,commented: "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." Mr. Miossi added: "It is our view that the MEBA's picketing of Liberty Maritime operated vessels and other actions violate federal labor law. Consequently, today we have filed appropriate Unfair Labor Practice Charges against the MEBA with the National Labor Relations Board to deal with these issues."
According to the AMO, on October 1 its members manned four ships owned and operated by Liberty Maritime Corporation as a collective bargaining agreement with the company was being finalized. A fifth vessel is currently undergoing maintenance in a shipyard overseas.
"Liberty expressed strong confidence in the caliber and professionalism of AMO officers, and took particular notice of the AMO Defined Contribution Plan, which provides AMO members with a substantial self-directed retirement investment benefit while eliminating the liability and loss risk associated with traditional defined benefit pension plans," said AMO National President Tom Bethel.
"There is a lot of heated rhetoric being slung about at this point, and I expect there will be more to come," Bethel said. "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 said. "The licensed engineering and deck officers represented by AMO are second to none across the board. With experienced leadership, the best training resources, and rewarding, realistic and well-managed benefit plans, there is present prosperity and a promising future for the AMO membership."
AMO members will be manning the five Liberty bulk carriers in every licensed position. As a new AMO-contracted operating company, all jobs in the Liberty Maritime bulk carrier fleet will qualify for the AMO Defined Contribution Plan at Schedule 2 rates.
October 3, 2011