Dozens of people who rely on the cruise ships, and cruise passengers, to move in and out of the Port of Galveston rallied together on Wednesday to plead with the U.S. government to remove one of the hurdles preventing cruises from resuming in the United States.
Speakers at the rally at Galveston’s Cruise Terminal No. 1 asked the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to let a no-sail order expire as planned at the end of October.
No-sail orders, combined with voluntary shutdowns by the global cruise industry, have paused cruises in the United States since the middle of March. The orders are meant to prevent the spread of COVID-19 on cruise ships, which health officials have pointed to as the source of some of the earliest outbreaks in the United States and as particularly at risk for future outbreaks.
The shutdown has cost cruise companies and the ports they operate out of millions of dollars in revenue. It also has meant that people who work on the docks and at the cruise terminals are losing out on pay.
“No sail means no pay,” one of the speakers at the short rally said.
Gilbert Arreazola, the business manager for Galveston’s International Longshoremen’s Association Local 20, said work for the union’s more than 400 members had decreased by about 50 percent during the cruise shutdown.
Union workers work the docks when a cruise ship comes to the port. They load and unload cargo and luggage, among other tasks.
With no cruise ships, the union is left to rely on cargo ships. Cargo has continued to operate steadily during the pandemic, though the work is often more strenuous and doesn’t carry the incentive of tips from passengers that cruise work carries, officials said.
“When we lose a piece of work, the guys with the higher seniority go to work they normally wouldn’t go on,” Arreazola said. “It’s more intensive work.”
The ILA is “all-in about safety,” Arreazola said, and plans for its members to take COVID-19 precautions seriously once cruising restarts.
It’s not just union workers that are hoping for a quicker return. Some of the people at Tuesday’s rally were contract employees who work at the terminal part-time as ticket takers and terminal attendants.
“I’m a greeter,” said Galveston resident Sara Mayeaux, 67. “When people are coming in, I greet them. I love my job, and I really want to get back to work.”
Mayeaux has worked the terminals for three years, and like many of the terminal workers is a retiree that uses the job as extra income. The loss of work has hurt some but so has the loss of social interaction with cruisers.
“We miss being around the people,” Mayeaux said. “It gives us a reason to wake up in the morning.
While rally-goers said that cruising can be done safely in the pandemic, the Port of Galveston doesn’t have a finalized plan from the cruise companies about what precautions would be taken at the port once cruises resume, Port of Galveston Director Rodger Rees said.
Rees pointed to a plan published last month by the Cruise Line International Association as the thing that likely will be the guiding document for what precautions are taken at Galveston’s two terminals once they open back up.
The port already has taken some steps to prepare the terminals for cruise passengers, including installing new air filtration systems and touchless bathroom fixtures.
But other details, like deciding when and how passengers will be tested for COVID-19 and where they could be quarantined, if needed, are up to the CDC and the cruise lines that lease the terminals.
Even if the CDC lets its no-sail order lapse on Oct. 31, it will be more than a month before cruises restart in Galveston.
Royal Caribbean Cruises has canceled all of its cruises through the end of November, and Carnival Cruises has canceled all of its non-Florida cruises through the end of 2020.