The Lookout of the Labor Movement





The Sailors' Union of the Pacific is committed to improving, protecting and defending the wages, benefits, working conditions and retirement security of our members. These are not theoretical pursuits: our goals and gains are what we learned and earned from decades of fight, from bargaining, and from the finest kind of professional seamanship.  

The origins of the Sailors' Union of the Pacific go back to March 6, 1885, when the Coast Seamen's Union was organized on the San Francisco waterfront by a group of three hundred sailors dissatisfied by the wages and conditions aboard ship that existed at that time. It was so early in the history of American unions, so forward thinking in confidence and competence, that it was also known as the Lookout of the Labor Movement. 



The month of March is the sailors’ month and this year the Union celebrates its 134rd anniversary of its founding at a meeting of sailors at the progenitor of all our Union meetings. It took place on a lumber pile on a wharf at the foot of Folsom Street on San Francisco’s Embarcadero on March 6, 1885.

March is also the birthday month of the two leaders of the SUP, Andrew Furuseth on March 5, 1854 and Harry Lundeberg on March 25, 1901, both luminaries of American labor history. It is also the month of the passage of the Seamen’s Act, signed into law on March 4, 1915 after a 20-year struggle by Furuseth to free seamen from indentured servitude. This year we also celebrate the 100th year of the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, known as the Jones Act. As venerable and long lasting as the Jones Act is, it’s instructive to remember that the SUP was already 35 years old at that point, and had emerged from violent union-busting attacks, conducted several major strikes, coordinated hundreds of smaller job actions all the while successfully organizing dozens of companies and helping to enact three other major pieces of national legislation favorable to the U.S. merchant marine. All that is only part of an astonishing overall record of success, worthy of proud celebration.


In 1886, the Steamship Sailors' Union was organized and in 1891 merged with the Coast Seamen's Union to form the Sailors' Union of the Pacific.



The reasons for that fundamental merger are clearly stated in the preamble to the SUP Constitution: "...having been organized separately... and having thoroughly learned the value of organization, and further, that two organizations of the same craft are not for the best interests of men working at the said craft, we have determined to form one Union..."



The Sailors' Union of the Pacific has been in continuous operation, through good times and bad, for over 135 years -- making it one of the oldest maritime unions the world has ever known.  

Organizational Information

Membership: The SUP is a union of unlicensed sailors that work in the deck, engine, and steward's departments in U.S.-flag merchant ships and other vessels and jobs under contract to the Union. The active and retired members and their families form a long lasting and regenerative community of interest, of purpose, of class and craft, of health and welfare, and of professional tradition within a democratic trade union. 


Union Structure: The Headquarters of the SUP is in San Francisco with Branch Offices in Wilmington, California, Seattle, Washington, and Honolulu, Hawaii.

Union meetings are held at Headquarters on the second Monday of every month at 1100 hours and at the Branches on the third Monday of every month at 1100 hours.



Union officers are elected every three years by secret mail ballot conducted by an impartial balloting agency selected by the membership. The duties of the officers are described in the SUP Constitution.


Membership and Seniority: Union membership and seniority are two distinct aspects of the SUP.

Membership: After 30 days employment in an SUP contracted vessel, an individual may apply to join the Union. Upon becoming a member, the individual has a voice in all the affairs of the Union, as well as the right to vote in all Union elections and after a period of time specified in the SUP Constitution, the right to go on the ballot as a candidate for elective union office.


Seniority: Seniority is important when bidding for work in the hiring hall. The system is very simple, basic, and fair: those members who have acquired more sea time in SUP contracted ships, have more seniority, and thus, more preference when bidding for work.

The seniority system is as follows:


  • Class "D" Registrant: No seniority 0-30 days SUP covered employment
  • Class "C" Seniority: 30-365 days SUP covered employment
  • Class "B" Seniority: one year but less than six years SUP covered employment.
  • Class "A" Seniority: more than six years SUP covered employment.

An example of how this works: If a Tankerman-Person-In-Charge job is called into the hall by a company, a qualified member with Class "A" seniority would get the job over a member with Class "B" seniority, etc. If two members with Class "A" seniority bid for the job, the member with the oldest shipping card would get it. Shipping cards or registration is valid for 90 days.

Hiring Hall: Of the many accomplishments of the SUP, the hiring hall stands as a key achievement and is a cornerstone of the Union's operation.

Instead of the employers selecting who they want to hire, the membership itself-again by secret mail ballot referendum-decides how the work is to be rotated. Under this system, the Union itself controls the jobs, not the companies.

However, under the collective bargaining agreements with some companies, notably Chevron, the jobs that are shipped off the hiring hall shipping board are under two categories: relief and steady employment.

But if a member does not care for the job with Chevron and chooses to quit (or gets fired), he or she can go back to the SUP hiring hall and bid for a job on another ship with another company. Vacation and sick reliefs to those companies, as well as extra personnel, are dispatched off the hiring hall shipping board.




The SUP is financed almost exclusively by membership dues. Other sources of revenue are initiation fees, voluntary contributions to the Union's General Treasury and to the West Coast Sailors newspaper.

The current dues, as determined by secret mail ballot referendum in 2007-2008, is $150 per quarter or $600 per year. No assessments, etc., can be levied without a secret mail ballot vote of the membership.

The officers' wages and benefits are set by secret mail ballot referendum and are paid out of the General Treasury. Under the SUP Constitution any regularly elected officer is not permitted to be paid by an employer. Union support staff are members of Local 3 of the Office and Professional Employees International Union and are also paid out of the treasury of the SUP.


Affiliation of the SUP

The Sailors' Union of the Pacific is an AFL-CIO autonomous affiliate of the Seafarers' International Union of North America (SIUNA) which was organized by the SUP in 1938. Other autonomous affiliates of the SIUNA, which is the only federation of unions in the AFL-CIO, includes the Marine Firemen's Union and the SIU-Atlantic, Gulf and Inland Waters District.

Autonomy is key to our affiliation with SIUNA. The SUP membership makes all decisions regarding the conduct of our organization including bargaining and contracts. The SUP controls its own destiny.


The SUP is also affiliated with the Maritime Trades Department, AFL-CIO, also founded by the SUP; State Federations of Labor in California, Washington State, Hawaii, as well as AFL-CIO Labor Central Councils in many cities in those states.

By participating in these organizations, the SUP acts in concert and solidarity with the rest of the labor movement on issues common to all, ranging from bread and butter issues of wages, hours, and working conditions to those involving social justice.


Political Action

The SUP has been involved since 1885 in various forms of political action. As it states in the SUP Constitution, "To use our influence individually and collectively for.... effecting a change in the maritime law of the United States, so as to render it more equitable and to make it an aid instead of a hindrance to the development of a Merchant Marine and a body of American Seamen."

The SUP was instrumental in the passing of the White Act, The Maguire Act, and the Seamen's Act of 1915. It was an active participant in passing various U.S. cargo preference laws and the Maritime Security Act of 1997. The SUP remains at the forefront on the West Coast in defending America's cabotage laws which our livelihoods are dependent upon-the Passenger Services Act and the Merchant Marine Act of 1920 (the Jones Act).

In addition to lobbying actively in Washington, D.C., and with state legislatures, the SUP also maintains a Sailors' Political Fund which, funded solely by voluntary contributions from the membership, donates money to pro-maritime members of Congress and other key politicians that can and do assist our organization and its members.


Collective Bargaining

The SUP has collective bargaining agreements with the following companies:


  • American President Lines (Unlicensed Deck Department)
  • Patriot Contract Services (Unlicensed Deck Department)
  • Chevron Shipping Company (Unlicensed Deck, Engine, and Stewards Department)
  • Foss Maritime Company San Francisco Bay (Unlicensed Deck and Engine Departments)
  • Matson Navigation Company (Unlicensed Deck Department)
  • San Francisco Bar Pilots (Unlicensed and Licensed Deck Departments, Steward's Department and Dispatchers)

All SUP collective bargaining agreements are negotiated by rank-and-file committees, which include members who have current or recent employment experience with the specific company in question. These committees are elected by the membership.


For example: When it is time to negotiate with Chevron Shipping, only those employed by Chevron are eligible to serve on the rank-and-file negotiating committee.

During the bargaining process, the membership is kept apprised of the progress of the negotiations through the Union's newspaper, the West Coast Sailors or through bulletins sent directly to company vessels. In addition, the full resources of the Union are employed during negotiations, including the hiring of outside experts if necessary. Also because of our ties to the labor movement, we can call on that movement for assistance and support.



Before an agreement is ratified, the contract is discussed and debated thoroughly at Union meetings aboard ship and at the regular monthly union meetings ashore. When those members are employed by a specific employer on a steady basis-Chevron, again for example-those members are polled as to their sentiments before a vote is taken by the membership at the monthly union meetings. No collective bargaining agreement is referred to the general membership if those working under the agreement are not satisfied. The entire membership attending the coastwise meetings then votes on all contracts, as all members, if they are qualified, are eligible for all jobs under our hiring hall system.


Andrew Furuseth School of Seamanship

Located at SUP Headquarters in San Francisco, the school provides marlinspike training. In conjunction with Training Resources Limited, the School also trains sailors at our San Diego facility for a variety of endorsements and skills required by contracted companies.