The Maritime Trades Department (MTD) is a constitutionally mandated department of the AFL-CIO. Since its inception, it has given workers employed in the maritime industry and its allied trades a voice in shaping national policy.
Formed shortly before the General Strike of 1946, the MTD has provided “money, marbles and chalk” to some of organized labor’s most important legislative and organizing efforts. The Department vigorously supported Cesar Chavez in his inspirational drive to gain union recognition for farm workers in the 1970s; it gave timely backing to AFSCME’s early efforts at securing state legislation to allow public employees the right to join unions. The MTD also played a leading role in the Wall Street Strike of 1948, one of the early organizing efforts of a precursor union of today’s OPEIU.
Over the past six decades, the Department has helped promote the enactment of such historic pieces of legislation as the Cargo Preference Act of 1954, the Merchant Marine Act of 1970 and the Maritime Security Act of 1995, all of which have helped ensure the continuation of a strong U.S. maritime industry. Moreover, it has joined other maritime organizations in educating the public about the necessity of preserving the Jones Act, the nation’s preeminent cabotage law. At a time when North American jobs are being shipped overseas in ever increasing numbers, the U.S. shipbuilding and the deep-sea industries have remained viable and the domestic Jones Act fleet has prospered. As a result, the nation’s armed services have been able to draw upon a pool of skilled civilian mariners, shipyard workers, dockworkers and others to enhance critical national strategic interests.
The MTD’s network of 21 port maritime councils has given maritime workers a formidable grass roots presence in port and coastal cities all across the nation. Representing a wide array of workers, the councils have given the Department’s 23 affiliates a mechanism to pool their resources on a wide range of issues and projects.
In the course of any one year, individual port maritime councils will be involved in an array of projects, from promoting the AFL-CIO’s agenda to backing affiliates in their organizing efforts and contract negotiations. They have made themselves trusted members of the community by being involved with charities like the Leukemia Society and Victims of 9/11. Port maritime councils have offered unflinching support to the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) flag-of-convenience campaign to improve conditions in the international maritime industry and are working with advocacy groups to publicize pressing local issues such as port modernization, prevailing wage rates and workers compensation.
Most importantly, the port maritime councils have played an indispensable role in educating the American public that a vibrant maritime industry is in the best interests of the United States. They have drummed up support for such vital programs as the Title XI shipbuilding loan guarantee program, the Jones Act and cargo preference, all of which are instrumental to the survival of a strong U.S.-flag merchant marine and a viable domestic shipbuilding base.