2019 SEATU Convention Builds Towards Future

Convention themes aren’t always so literal, but at the 2019 SEATU Triennial Convention, “Building for the Future” was a slogan that delivered.

The convention took place on Sept. 10-11, at the union-affiliated Paul Hall Center in Piney Point, Maryland, and brought with it news of solid membership growth, new contracts and multiple new constructions, the latter of which potentially will provide jobs for hundreds and hundreds of SEATU members before the next convention.

SEATU President Michael Sacco addresses the crowd at the 2019 SEATU Convention.

In addition to reports from each SEATU representative and a dozen resolutions, attendees were treated to presentations from: Cornel Martin, President and CEO of the Delta Queen Steamboat Company; Howard Weinstein, Senior Vice President and General Counsel at The Cordish Companies; Nelson Hill, Vice President of United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) Local 27; Daniel Duncan, Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the Maritime Trades Department, AFL-CIO; Valerie Cole, SEATU’s Union Plus Representative; and Brian Schoeneman, SEATU’s Legislative Director. 

Representing the SIU, SEATU’s parent union, at the convention were SIU (and SEATU) President Michael Sacco, Executive Vice-President Augie Tellez, Secretary-Treasurer David Heindel, Vice President of Contracts George Tricker, General Counsel Leslie Tarantola, Vice President Lakes and Inland Waters Tom Orzechowski, Vice President Atlantic Coast Joseph Soresi, Vice President Gulf Coast Dean Corgey, Vice President West Coast Nick Marrone, Assistant Vice Presidents Bryan Powell, Pat Vandegrift and Mike Russo, Port Agent Mark von Siegel, Port Agent Todd Brdak, Port Agent Victor Nunez, and Safety Directors Amber Akana, James Brown and William Tyson Little.

Cornell Martin, President and CEO, Delta Queen Steamboat Company

The SEATU Representatives in attendance were Akana, Monte Burgett, Brdak, Brown, Patti Christian, Gerard Dhooge, Amber Gibson, Ashley Smith, Shane Sterry, and Little. Each brought delegates from their respective worksites to the convention.

Martin presented information on the long history of the Delta Queen, a historic river steamboat which operated from 1927 until 2008 as an overnight passenger vessel, often carrying SIU crews. The vessel was granted a Congressional Exemption on December 4, 2018, which will allow the Delta Queen Steamboat Company to fully restore the boat and return it to overnight river cruise service.

He explained that in 2007, the owners of the boat at that time began to crew the vessel with non-union, improperly trained employees. Shortly thereafter, also in 2007, the vessel’s exemption expired, as Congress no longer felt the vessel was being operated safely by qualified mariners. By October 2008, the vessel was retired from sailing the waterways, and was operated as a floating hotel in Chattanooga, Tennessee, until 2014.

Martin then spoke on how he became involved with the Delta Queen: “The hotel eventually came under the operation of Randy and Leah Ann Ingram, longtime supporters of the Delta Queen, in 2010.... In 2012, they contacted me and said, ‘We’d like to see the Delta Queen cruise again on the river, and we’d like you to come on board and help us.’ And I said, there’s only one way I’ll do it, and that’s if you agree to [get input from maritime labor].”

After a detailed report of the work it will take to restore and modernize the vessel to meet current safety requirements, Martin stated that the boat will sail the inland rivers again as soon as the restoration is complete.

Howard Weinstein, Senior Vice President and General Counsel at The Cordish Companies

Weinstein’s presentation also carried with it the reveal of potential new jobs on the horizon. After a look back at the history of the working relationship between Maryland LIVE! Casino and the union, he focused on the future expansion of that property, as well as new facilities.

“We are in the process of building two new casinos,” he said. “The first is in Pittsburgh, which is due to open in August of next year. And the second one is another casino, in Philadelphia, which is also due to open next year.” He further clarified that the Philadelphia property is both a hotel and casino, and will employ hundreds of people in both facilities when it opens in December 2020.

He then mentioned that the partnership with SEATU isn’t always perfect, and that there have been plenty of disagreements and grievances over the years. “I share that with you because we have good, healthy disagreements, and the relationship stays intact. We’re both committed to the long term here, and it has worked very, very well,” he concluded.

Daniel Duncan, Executive Secretary-Treasurer, Maritime Trades Department, AFL-CIO

Duncan explained the importance of grassroots and community activities, and how SEATU executives and representatives have stepped up to do their part. For example, he noted the union’s successful efforts to defeat so-called right-to-work statutes in Missouri; and SEATU’s volunteerism in assisting Habitat for Humanity in Baltimore.

Schoeneman offered a fact-based picture of the current political landscape, saying, “Let me put things into perspective. This Congress is on pace to being the most do-nothing Congress in the history of the Union. Since January when they came into office, they’ve created and enacted 56 laws. 56. Of those 56, 26 were things like post office namings, short-term extensions of programs and technical corrections bills.... That gets us to about 150 bills by the end of this Congress. When President Truman ran in 1948 against the first do-nothing Congress that he christened, that Congress passed 906 laws.

“That being said, the 2020 election cycle is probably going to be one of the most contentious in history,” he continued. “The 2016 election saw the largest number of Americans in history voting, despite the turnout hovering around 60 percent. Last year’s mid-term elections saw turnout of almost 50 percent, which was the highest since 1966 and way up from 2014, when 37 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot – the lowest in 72 years.” He then urged everyone in attendance to get out to the polls and vote, reminding them that every vote counts.

Hill brought a message of solidarity to the convention, speaking to the audience about his background, the importance of unions in his personal experience, and the bonds between the UFCW and SEATU.

Cole described to those in attendance all the ways that members can leverage Union Plus, including the many free benefits available to union families. She also held a separate session during the convention, where she went into further detail on all the ways Union Plus can help save SEATU members money on their everyday purchases.

Outside of the meeting hours, SEATU representatives and delegates attended discussions and seminars, before being treated to a crab feast as well as campus tours for those so inclined.

Delegates unanimously re-elected Sacco as president, Heindel as secretary-treasurer and Tellez and Orzechowski as vice presidents. They will each serve another three-year term.