The Great Lakes-Seaway Maritime Industry: The Human Side
by John D. Baker
Those of us who have spent all, or even part, of our careers working in the Great Lakes-Seaway maritime industry are right to talk about the System's outstanding safety record, enviable reliability record, environmental benefits, and economic impacts.
We would be making a big mistake, however, by neglecting to mention the human side of our business. It would be easy to think that our business is just about ships, cargoes, docks and cranes. It would also be wrong.
I've spent all of my adult life working on America's Fourth Seacoast. Over those decades, if I've learned one thing, it's that the most important thing about the Great Lakes-Seaway maritime industry is the people that make it work and their families.
The newest, sleekest, most modern ship in the world is nothing but a floating steel tub without the crew that guides that ship from one place to another. An expensive wind turbine is nothing more than a pile of expensive parts unless highly skilled stevedores and longshoremen delicately move it from ship to truck or train. Grain cargoes never make it to an elevator, let alone a ship, if farm families don't rise early in the morning to plant, tend and harvest their crops and get them to market.
So when we talk about the Great Lakes-Seaway System's outstanding safety record, let's think about the truck driver that isn't injured in a crash on our highways. When we cite the System's environmental benefits, let's make sure we understand and articulate how important clean water and clean air are to us and our neighbors. When we discuss the System's economic impacts let's also recognize the human impact of a worker being able to start a college fund for their children and grandchildren, a Seaway family that will be able to take care of their aging parents, a first home for a young couple starting a new life together.
It's true that transportation infrastructure, government policies, modern ships, efficient ports and modern equipment are important to the Great Lakes-Seaway System's future. At the end of the day though, the people who make their living in the Great Lakes region are the reason why our System matters.
The author, John D. Baker is the President Emeritus of the Great Lakes District Council of the International Longshoremen's Association. The views expressed by our guests are entirely their own.