Rally at Port Canaveral pushes return to cruises by ending federal 'no-sail' order
The International Longshoreman’s Association and other workers of Port Canaveral staged a rally to help restart the cruise line operations. Florida Today
A coalition of cruise industry employees and their supporters, led by members of the International Longshoremen's Association, rallied Wednesday at Port Canaveral, seeking an end to the government's seven-month halt to cruising because of the coronavirus pandemic, reports Florida Today, a USA TODAY Network publication.
"It's been too long," said Port St. John resident Bobby Deriso, a member of the Longshoremen's union for the last seven years. "We're ready to go back to work. We need to put food back on the table."
Tracy Wade of Cocoa, a Longshoremen's union member for 17 years, said it's not fair that restaurants, nightclubs and bars can reopen, but not the cruise industry.
"Everything else is back to work," Wade said.
Deriso and Wade are among the supervisors of union forklift operators who load and unload passenger luggage and cruise line supplies for Carnival, Norwegian and Royal Caribbean ships at Port Canaveral.
They were among more than 50 people who attended the hourlong rally outside Port Canaveral's Cruise Terminal 1, demanding that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lift its no-sail order, which has been in effect since mid-March.
The order is scheduled to expire Oct. 31, but the CDC could extend it, as it did in April, July and September.
Leading the rally was Richard Ross, president of International Longshoremen's Association Local 1359/1860, many of whose members work at Port Canaveral.
Port Canaveral CEO John Murray offers updates on Cruise Terminal construction and renovations. He also discusses preparations and changes made for return of cruise ships. Florida Today
Ross said his union members were among a range of employees affected, other than people who work directly for the port and the cruise lines. Also affected, he said, are employees of hotels, restaurants, retail shops, attractions and ground-transportation companies.
Ross contends that cruises will be safe, under guidelines put forth in 74 recommendations from the cruise industry trade group the Cruise Lines International Association. These include mandated COVID-19 testing of passengers and crew, temperature checks, social distancing, limits on ship capacities and strict controls on shore excursions. Cruise lines also are expected to focus on shorter cruises, have staggered passenger boarding times, and have increased medical personnel and facilities onboard ships.
In addition to workers based at Port Canaveral, union members from Tampa and West Palm Beach attended the rally. So did employees of restaurants, taxi and shuttle operators, and harbor pilots who guide cruise ships into port.
Simultaneous rallies were held at noon Wednesday at PortMiami and Fort Lauderdale's Port Everglades.
"The message is simple," Ross said. "Let's start cruising back safety."
Ross led the participants at Port Canaveral in chants, among them: "What do we want? Our cruise jobs back now." and "No sail. No way. Let us go to work today."
Port officials — including Port Canaveral Chief Executive Officer John Murray and Canaveral Port ity Vice Chair Wayne Justice — attended the rally in a show of support for the union and for resuming sailing.
Murray said he would "like to be very optimistic" that the CDC will not extend its no-sail order again, but added that it is hard to predict what the agency will do.
Murray said, even if the no-sail order is lifted Oct. 31, it likely would be 45 to 60 days before cruises resume at Port Canaveral. Murray said cruise lines must reassemble their ship crews, bringing them in from countries throughout the world, as well get the ships ready for passengers after a long-term halt to cruising.
In addition, each cruise line will have to get its own plans to resume operations individually approved by federal regulators.
Justice said port officials and the union have the same goal — the return of cruise operations and the return to work for cruise industry employees.
"We've got the answers" to resume sailing with health guidelines in place, Justice said. "We're ready to do it. Give us an OK, and we'll move forward."
Murray said he believes the Cruise Lines International Association guidelines, coupled with the precautions that will be implemented by cruise ports, will make cruising safe.
Robert "Bobby G" Giangrisostomi, Port Canaveral's vice president of cruise business development, participated in the rally, while holding a sign that featured a large photo of the new Carnival Mardi Gras ship that is scheduled to debut at Port Canaveral in February at the port's new Cruise Terminal 3.
Giangrisostomi cited the economic impact of the cruise industry on Florida, including $8.49 billion a year in direct spending, 154,646 jobs and $7.69 billion in annual wages. Nationwide, those figures are $53 billion a year in direct spending, 420,000 jobs and $23.15 billion in annual wages.
"We've got lots of Floridians that are out of work right now," Murray said. "Everybody that's associated with the cruise industry is taking a hit right now. Everybody just wants to get back to work. Let's go with the protocols that have been submitted, and let's get started. Even on a limited scale, we've just got to get going. Let's get started and at least get some people back working."
Murray and Ross were among the 19 port and union officials nationwide who co-signed an Oct. 16 letter to Vice President Mike Pence and members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, urging an end to the CDC no-sail order.
"We believe further extensions are unnecessary and will cause irreparable harm to the extended communities which depend on the success of cruising from America's cruise seaports," the letter reads. "With the comprehensive health safety protocols proposed, we urge you to let the no-sail order expire and allow the cruise industry to set a pathway to restart operations. The time has come. America's cruise ports are ready to get back to work."
Several local Democratic candidates in the Nov. 3 election attended the rally, including 8th Congressional District candidate Jim Kennedy, Florida House District 51 candidate Joan Majid and Canaveral Port ity District 4 candidate Paul Kellem, who is a financial secretary and contract negotiator with the International Longshoremen's Association.
Kellem, however, said the event was not politically motivated. The candidates stood apart from the other participants and did not speak during the rally.
Kellem's Republican opponent, Kevin Markey, said he was not notified about the event, and would have attended if he knew about it. Markey said he supports a return to cruising and is supportive of the people who work at the port.
Pre-coronavirus, Port Canaveral was expecting 77.6% of its revenue for the 2019-20 budget year that Sept. 30 to come from cruise-related business, including parking revenue from cruise passengers.
Port Canaveral was the world's second-busiest cruise port in terms of passenger volume, trailing only PortMiami.
Four major cruise lines have ships based at Port Canaveral — Carnival, Disney, Norwegian and Royal Caribbean. A fifth cruise line, MSC Cruises, was planning to base a ship there before the end of the year.
Port Canaveral has reduced its staff from 268 positions to 153, largely because of lost revenue related to the cruise industry shutdown. That was done through a combination of 68 permanent layoffs, 17 unpaid furloughs, and not filling 30 positions that were left vacant because of retirement or employees taking jobs elsewhere.
Follow Dace Berman on Twitter: @bydaveberman