Remembering Seafarers International Union President Michael Sacco

Courtesy of Fr. Sinclair Oubre, CLN Spiritual Moderator

On Friday, December 29, 2023, the news spread quickly through the United States Maritime community that one of the elders of maritime labor had died the previous day in St. Louis, Missouri, surrounded by his family, after a short illness.

In the wake of Michael Sacco’s passing, national and international labor leaders praised him for his lifelong service to working men and women, especially the unlicensed merchant marine community in the United States and Canada. Here are a few links to some of the statements:

•    AFL-CIO Liz Shuler:
•    The International Transportation Workers’ Federation:
•    American Maritime Officers:

These labor leaders and many others speak of the commitment and the accomplishments of Mike over the 65 years of his union service. They shared about Mike’s service to the rank-and-file members of the Seafarers International Union (SIU).

I have been a member of the SIU for 33 years, having joined in 1990. I worked as an ordinary seaman and as an able bodied seaman. Over these years, I had many opportunities to know and work with Mike. I  met him annually at the New York Admiral of the Ocean Seas Gala. These meetings were always times to renew our friendship, and to catch up with each other’s lives.

There are two things that I will share about Mike that will probably not be picked up in the many public statements.

First, Mike was the most important maritime labor leader in the country. What makes this so significant is that he was the leader of the biggest unlicensed maritime union in the United States. Where leadership often migrates to those who have degrees and hold leadership positions, Mike was unique in that he was the undisputed leader of the maritime unions, and where the led, the other unions followed.

Mike was able to overcome the typical hierarchical social structure that so dominates our institutions, and through his efforts, as Mary proclaims in the Magnificat, he “. . . lifted up the lowly.” Specifically, he lifted up the ordinary seaman, the wiper, and the messman with good contracts and training opportunities.

Second, Mike was not a nominal Catholic. Rather, he was an every-Sunday-go-to-Mass Catholic.

Back in 1996, I was privileged to attend an International Transportation Workers’ Federation meeting in Latvia. John Fay, who at that time was the Secretary Treasurer of the SIU, shared with me that wherever he and Mike were, they always attended Mass on Sundays.

John died in 2005, and I was fortunate to be doing my basic safety training at the Harry Lundeberg School of Seamanship at Piney Point, Maryland. I stayed over a couple of days so that I could preside at the funeral. However, over all these years, I still recall John strong affirmation of Mike’s Catholic faith.

Mike retired in February of 2023. The union is in good hands Dave Heindel, and Dave is continuing the SIU tradition of advocating and defending merchant mariners from the United States and Canada, but also mariners who work on flag-of-convenience vessels calling in our country.

For our CLN priests, I ask that you say a Mass for the repose of Mike’s soul and for his family in this time of mourning. For our lay CLN members, I ask that you pray a special rosary or attend a Mass, and offer it up for Mike and his family, and in both cases, lift up a special petition to Mike that he may intercede with his prayers for the needs of all the men and women who sail the seas.