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Port workers eagerly await cruising to resume in Florida

'[They are] extremely anxious. They would call me every day,' union president says
Port Everglades
Posted at 6:15 AM, Jul 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-22 08:10:53-04

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — As cruising returns, ports in South Florida are hiring.

The Port of Palm Beach recently held a job fair looking for greeters and baggage handlers among other positions.

MORE: Cruising in Florida is back amid pandemic; Here's what you need to know

The terminals at Port Everglades are still empty with no crowds, but there are signs it won't stay that way for long.

Celebrity and Disney ships are now docked at the port, and Johnnie Dixon couldn't be happier.

"We're down about 1.4 million man-hours," Dixon said.

Johnnie Dixon, president of Longshore's Union Local 1526 in Fort Lauderdale
Johnnie Dixon says the workers he represents are eager to return to work after being laid off for more than a year.

Dixon is the president of the Longshoreman's Union Local 1526 in Fort Lauderdale, which represents the baggage handlers.

On a normal day before the pandemic, Dixon would have nearly 500 people at the port moving luggage, equipment and supplies for the ships. All of those people are now eager to get back to work.

"[They are] extremely anxious. They would call me every day," Dixon said. "Some of them during the shutdown would call me crying trying to figure out how to pay their mortgages, pay their rent, keep food on the table, so it's been a tough 15 months."

MORE: Legal battles brewing as cruising returns in Florida

It's also been a tough 15 months for Andrew Garnett's business, Special Needs Group, which supplies wheelchairs and scooters for ship passengers.

During the pandemic, he said his workforce dropped from 35 to seven.

"We did have someone who works the phones show up to the office last week Friday saying, 'I know things are getting started. I want you to know I'm ready. Just let me know,'" Garnett said.

Andrew Garnett, owner of Special Needs Group
Andrew Garnett says his business had to lay off most of its employees during the pandemic.

He and others connected to the cruise industry are now focused on returning to work as ships start sailing with limited capacity.

They are among the last workers to get back to work -- something the rest of the country has already done.

"As things start to normalize, we're hoping to ramp up quickly. I'm thinking probably November is when it will really ramp up," Garnett said.

"I do expect my members to be working the cruise ships, just not in a setting that we are used to when the vessels are 100 percent occupied. It's going to be a slow process but something is better than nothing," Dixon said.

As the ships get ready to sail again, there is new optimism for those who depend on the ships that they will return to seeing a steady paycheck. They just hope the passengers will return.