This week I’d like to take a closer look at what shipping out with the International Organization of Masters, Mates & Pilots (MMP) entails. The MMP—unlike the AMO—utilizes a hiring-hall system of dispatching jobs. An exhaustive list of which ports are home to MMP halls can be found on the union’s website, www.bridgedeck.org. Hiring halls, although commonplace in many blue-collar industries many years ago, are seldom seen in the 21st century, thus it may be beneficial to discuss how one goes about procuring a shipboard job out of one of these halls.
Prior to diving into the actual process of getting a job, we must understand a few basics regarding union membership and seniority. When an aspiring mariner decides that he/she would like to join the MM&P, they are given “applicant” status. After accruing sufficient seatime, union affiliation time, and successful completion of a few assessments, membership can be granted. On the membership totem pole, this is the lowest form of membership, commonly referred to as a “C Book”. Moving up the totem pole, a “C Book” can move up to a “B Book” and finally an “A Book”. Although a “C Book” member is the lowest member, they are indeed a member, placing them above an applicant.
Once a job seeker has successfully become affiliated with the MMP as an applicant, you must register to ship. A national shipping card is then handed over to the mariner; the time and date of registration is stamped onto this card. In the hiring halls, a job board is posted showing ships and on board billets needing to be filled. Sometimes nothing will be posted on the board as there are no jobs available, and sometimes one to a handful of jobs may be posted. When jobs are available, a dispatcher at the hall will ask for people’s shipping cards who are interested in the jobs posted on the board (“job call”).
In determining who gets the job, membership status as well as elapsed time since shipping-card registration is observed. What does this mean? A C-Book member who registered to ship four months ago will be offered the job prior to an applicant who registered their card 8 months ago. A B-Book member who registered two months ago can trump the C-Book. Lastly, the A-Book can trump the B-Book. A job for a ship currently in Oakland will be dispatched at the Oakland hall; however, if there are no takers, the job will go to another hall whose geographic location is the closest. If the job doesn’t go fulfilled enough times it can go to “national job call”, meaning that a mariner in the New York/New Jersey hall may take the job and be flown to Oakland. Additionally, just because one might have registered their shipping card in one hall does not debar them from seeking jobs at other halls.
Jobs dispatched out of the hall are typically 120-day “rotary” jobs. “Relief Jobs” ranging from a few days to a month or two are also available. Some companies allow for a vacation period in the middle of a 120-day rotary job; during this time, a relief job is dispatched at the hall. It is also worth noting that most chief mate and captain positions are company-employee jobs; this means that despite being a member of the MMP onboard an MMP vessel, they are permanently placed on a vessel with a set schedule and a relief, thus bypassing the hiring hall process.
Now, this process seems pretty crazy in the age of having a full-blown computer in your pocket at all times; however, it does allow for perusing contracts, transparency, and another added opportunity known as “night mating”. When a ship is docked in a US port, night mates stand in for the licensed deck officers onboard. A night mate will stand in-port watches (i.e. cargo). These night mate jobs are dispatched in the halls and can provide supplemental income while waiting to ship. Horror stories have surfaced, however, of “career night mates” making it difficult for applicants waiting to ship out.
Jobs in the MMP tend to be higher paying than those out of the AMO. The hiring hall process can be a turn off for some, but it certainly is not without its benefits. For those looking to have a little more flexibility in their lives, MMP might be the right choice; just remember, it might be difficult starting out as a new applicant.