Coronavirus Update

In the past couple of weeks, two Great Lakes freight vessels experienced an outbreak of COVID-19 that necessitated an extended stay in port in order to quarantine infected crew members. Cases of the virus have fluctuated up and down over the past several months, and at the time of this writing, cases are going up as more people begin to travel, especially during the spring break season. Other variants of the virus have been identified, and are said to be more contagious than other more common variants. 

The Food and Drug Administration has granted Emergency Use Authorization to COVID-19 vaccines from Phizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson, although it is important to note that Emergency Use Authorization is not the same as FDA approval. Currently, none of the available vaccines have been approved by the FDA. 

In early April, the Lake Carriers Association partnered with the Chippewa County Health Department to distribute and administer vaccines to Great Lakes mariners on a voluntary basis, at no charge to the mariner. All three fleets where our members are employed have taken steps to facilitate access to this service, including timing passage through the locks and taking delays to ensure access to this service for company employees. 

USW Local 5000 understands that there are many views on the vaccine, and the issue of COVID-19 is often political in nature. It is our desire to remain neutral to any side of the argument, and offer our members information about the vaccine and testing, and protect workers' rights during the pandemic. Our official position is this: 

  • There is evidence that the vaccine is safe for the majority of the population despite not being FDA approved. 
  • We strongly encourage our members to be vaccinated against COVID-19. 
  • Because none of us on the Executive Board, nor those in company management are trained medical professionals, we recognize the right of our members to evaluate the risks and benefits of the vaccine and stand in full support of our members right to decide whether or not the vaccine is right for them. There have been several discussions amongst company management about making the vaccine mandatory, and we are prepared to take legal action against any employer who decides to make vaccination a condition of employment. 

Additionally, the Local Union is discussing the implementation of a safety plan to reduce the risk of introducing COVID-19 aboard our represented vessels. Our goal is to see reasonable and consistent safety protocols applied to all vessels crewed by our members, and while we are still developing our safety plan, key points of the plan include: 

  • Return to work testing for COVID-19 for attaching crew members and visiting dock or service providers. 
  • Requiring lower-nasal swab or saliva sample as the only allowable sample collection method for on-board or at-home testing, while barring the use of deep nasal swab type tests.
  • Requiring members to be provided with at-home testing kits for return-to-work testing prior to reattaching to their vessel.
  • Barring management from requiring members to visit a testing site, in order to reduce possible exposure to those infected with COVID-19. 
  • Providing pay for members discharged from the vessel in connection with a positive COVID-19 test for the duration of their quarantine period

We encourage our members to contact us with any questions or concerns related to COVID-19 policies in the workplace, and to report any condition that you believe exposes our members to unnecessary hazards with regard to COVID-19 or any other safety matter. 

We have more COVID-19 resources available at