Sunday, August 12, 2012

BLOOD ON BROWN WATER -CHAPTER 7         
          Flag of Honduras

Foreign Seamen Are Employed and Mistreated


(AAB Editor's Note:) The merchant marine trades discussed in this book are reserved to American citizens by the "Jones Act", foreign seamen are not supposed to be employed in these trades, but frequently are. When they are, they are even more mistreated than the Americans now abandoning the trades.)



CHAPTER 7
Foreign Seamen Are Employed and Mistreated
One way that U.S. Flag vessel operating companies try to deal with their self-generated labor shortage is to import foreign seamen to serve on U.S. Flag commercial vessels under waivers to the Jones Act . Once aboard these U.S. Flag vessels these mostly third world seamen discover conditions of employment right out of the peon/patron system of their native countries.

In a Life or Death Decision an Employer Evades Responsibility
[Source: By Jan Clifford, The Houma Courier, Apr.19, 2006. Emphasis is ours!.}

A Honduran seaman hospitalized in Terrebonne General Medical Center since early February is at the center of what could be a landmark case in maritime law, according to an attorney representing him. While lawyers for the 20-year-old and the tugboat company he worked for argue about who is responsible for the costly life-saving procedure, Dilbert Calix remains in the hospital’s intensive-care unit, his condition rapidly worsening.
Calix went to work for Global International Marine of Houma, LA, about a year ago. Global International operates ocean-class tugs and barges in domestic and foreign waters. Calix’s father Daniel Chacon has worked for the same company for seven years, though he and his son were assigned to different vessels. Neither man speaks English. Calix got sick in early February while working on a tugboat docked in Houma, said Dora Delancey, Hispanic community coordinator for Annunziata Catholic Church and translator for the father and son.
He underwent emergency gall bladder surgery but didn’t get better, she said. That’s when doctors made a second, more serious, diagnosis – Calix has congestive heart failure and won’t survive without a heart transplant. But it’s doubtful he’ll get the surgery unless a judge intervenes. The problem? Calix could be forced to return to Honduras. His advocates say he’s unlikely to get the necessary surgery in that country.

Global International CEO Tony Authement declined comment, citing the ongoing legal dispute. The company’s attorney says the company is simply trying to do what Calix, and his father, agreed to when they signed on with the company. The men signed a contract, which states that each agrees to be sent home in the event of any illness, death, or employment dispute, said Randolph Waits, a New Orleans attorney representing Global International.

The contracts are written in English, but they include a measure that says the signers "have read or have had read to them" the contents. "They agreed by international contract to bring their case before a Honduran court of law," Waits said. He said
Global International has the right to send Calix back to Honduras for medical care. Asked if hospitals in that country had facilities necessary for heart-transplant surgery, Waits said he didn’t know.

Calix and Chacon say they did not understand the particulars of the contract they signed in order to obtain work. They want Calix to get the operation here, and they want Global International to pay for it. Calix’s family and friends say sending him to Honduras without a heart transplant amounts to a death sentence.
While lawyers debate his fate, Calix spends his days in a hospital bed hoping that his condition improves enough for him to be allowed to return to work. He said he has "never run from work" and dreams of becoming a boat captain one day.

Calix is in constant pain, Myers said, and tries to stay as still as possible for fear of triggering a fatal heart
attack. His father keeps a constant vigil at Calix’s bedside and worries about the future. Chacon says a company representative told him to stay with his son and promised both men would continue to receive their paychecks. They haven’t gotten the money as promised, he said, and the cash they had is running out.
The men said they had hoped that Marta Chacon, Chacon’s wife, could come to Houma and stay by Calix’s side so Chacon, who is the family’s sole source of income, could return to work. But Marta Chacon hasn’t been able to secure the travel visa she needs to come to this country.

Dilbert Calix, a Honduras native who was working for a Houma company, waits in a Terrebonne General Medical Center hospital room with his father, Daniel Chacon, to find out if he will get the heart transplant he needs to survive. (Sabree Hill/The Courier)
Global International hired Calix through the Harvey-based Pontchartrain Marine, Inc., according to the signed
employment contract the family showed a Courier reporter. According to Pontchartrain Marine’s Web site, the
company provides foreign crewmembers to work on vessels worldwide. Patricia Martinez, a human-resources
manager for the company, refused to speak with The Courier.
According to Calix’s father and uncle, Martinez is the woman who visited Calix’s hospital room after his gall bladder surgery bearing a portable oxygen tank and plane tickets to Honduras. That’s when the family contacted an attorney. Since Calix needed emergency-medical care while working on an American vessel docked in Houma, his case may fall under U.S. maritime law, said Matthew Slingbaum, a Florida attorney representing Calix.
Robert Myers, an attorney handling the Louisiana proceedings for Slingbaum, said offshore workers have been involved in similar incidents, but this is the first instance involving a resident of another country who has Louisiana ties. Myers filed a motion late last month, asking a federal judge to determine whether the contract Calix signed is legally binding.

"A seaman is legally a ward of the court," Myers said, adding that the law, which is "hundreds of years old"requires the employer to pay for medical treatment when a seaman is injured or gets sick while working, whether his condition is pre-existing or not. Authement, Global International’s attorney, says the contract is valid, and Calix must seek treatment on his own
in Honduras. If U.S. District Court Judge Carl Barbier of New Orleans agrees, Calix will be sent back to Central America,
and Global International will not be liable for his medical bills.
The heart surgery would cost an estimated $500,000; the hospital bills to date are upwards of $200,000, Myers said. Once Barbier rules on the contract, Slingbaum said he’d file papers alleging that Calix’s health problems stem from Global International’s hazardous work conditions.

Calix’s job was to clean diesel and bilge tanks, the family said, adding he wasn’t provided with the necessary protective gear. They allege that’s what caused his heart problem and say that a Honduras doctor gave Calix a clean bill of health during a pre-employment physical. The Courier’s efforts to reach Dr. Oscar Luis Chavarria in Honduras were unsuccessful. Waits disputes the men’s claims, adding that other family members have suffered the same disease. Attorneys for both sides say Barbier took an immediate interest in Calix’s case, and is moving swiftly to reach a decision. Waits’ response to Myer’s motion is due in the judge’s office by May 1. A decision should come soon after that date.

 As to what will happen if Calix does not recover, Myers said the litigation would escalate. "We’ll file a wrongful-death claim," he said.

 Who Cares For Foreign Seamen Working On U.S.-Flag Vessels?

We explored this issue in our on foreign seamen serving on American-flagged vessels(1) in 2005 when the issue was reignited 

by the introduction of the Transportation Workers Identification Credential (TWIC) requirements.

[(1)NMA Report #R-334, Rev. 2.]

Our Association consistently opposes exploitation of American “limited-tonnage” mariners serving on vessels of less than 1600 gross tons. The examples we cite are the abuse of the “12-Hour Rule” revealed collected in our reports that the Coast Guard has repeatedly ignored.(1) Cases like these and those reported in 2000 to the Marine Safety Directorate in Coast Guard Headquarters(2) cautioned many mariners and potential mariners to the abuses encountered in working on commercial vessels. 

These reports were mileposts along the way to the industry’s
current personnel shortages. [(1)NMA Report #R-370, Rev. 4 and other reports in the #R-370 series. (2)NMA Report
#R-201.] During the past twenty years, boat companies in the inland towing and offshore oil industry sectors cut crew size
to the bone. Our mariners’ wages failed to keep pace with inflation. Mariners were routinely overworked and
overwhelmed in several attempts to organize to protect and advance their own interests. The Pilots Agree movement on the western rivers and Gulf Intracoastal Waterway in 1998 was followed by an attempt to organize an independent union (Offshore Mariners United) to represent thousands of mariners in the offshore oil industry. These two movements were defeated by millions of dollars spent by individual boat companies and industry trade associations that even hired professional “union busters” to distort the issues and mislead mariners. Many of our Association’s directors and members are veterans of these movements and continue to assist and inform our limited-tonnage mariners. While we witnessed these events happen, we do our best to maintain a record of these events and explain why they happened and see that they are not repeated 

Temporary Work Visas Are No Answer

Boat owners are becoming desperate to crew their boats. Many boat owners believe their key to “success” is to 

recruit “cheap” labor. “Cheap” inevitably leads to using individuals from foreign countries who may be desperate 

for a job or to immigrate to the United States for a “better life.” 

A letter in the May 2006 issue of WorkBoat magazine suggested that the maritime industry be granted an 

allotment of H-1B visas so they can bring in skilled workers from other countries as is allowed in other industries 

with a proven shortage of skilled labor.  were not impressed with this argument. However, we were impressed, by a letter, by a Lawrence Crompton, a 1,600 GT Master and Third Mate who wrote the following in a letter to the editor in WorkBoat’s June issue.

I strongly disagree with the letter… “Temporary Visas Could Ease Mariner Labor Woes.” Not only would it not ease the woes, it would create even more problems. “First, the officer pool in the “patch” (i.e., offshore oil industry) is made up almost entirely from those who came up the hawsepipe. When we open the entry-level jobs to H-1B (visa) labor, who are we training to run the boats in the future? It would only take a few years worth of layoffs and rehire cycles, and we would have to start hiring H-1B officers. How does that ease the woes? “Second is the Jones Act. Shall we abolish it all at once to bring in “skilled workers” from other countries or just whittle it away piece by piece? The loss of the Jones Act would mean the death to U.S. maritime labor. We would also have to ask just how skilled these laborers are. Many of the H-1B workers I have seen are hired from their government-owned employment services. Will those governments also guarantee the skill and training levels of the workforce?

“The last thing I want to mention is the revolving door of H-1B labor. In other industries, H-1B labor has been used for short term (often on a six-month work visa) in jobs the employer can’t find local labor to fill. Most are minimum wage positions. Once these jobs have been given to H-1B labor, there is no reason to improve working conditions and make wages more appealing to the local work force. In six months (with a minimal amount of paperwork) they hire another group for the next six months. “In the Oil Patch they are having a hard time with labor because of the working conditions and wages. When the less expensive H-1B labor comes in then wages will most likely drop, benefits lost, rotations will increase to six months on (same as the work visa) and conditions will not improve, except when legally required. That will surely 

push the mariner out of the workforce. I guess that would ease the woes of the U.S. mariner, because  there 

wouldn’t be any.”

NMA Traditions

From the earliest days of our Association, the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) always has been a source of support. We recall the day when one hundred fifty ITF delegates attending an international conference in New Orleans marched in support of our mariners and demonstrated in front of the Work Boat Show. They came 

from all corners of the globe to protest the way that the offshore oil industry trampled the rights of our mariners.

Our concern over the employment of foreign workers follows most of the concerns mentioned in Lawrence Crompton’s letter as well as the fact that the same people who exploit American workers can be trusted to do the 

same thing to foreign workers. This case serves as an example that we brought to the attention of both the Coast Guard and the International Transport Workers Federation. 

 

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    1. Contact details? First and foremost additional information may be obtained by contacting the American Mariner's Association at www.nationalmariners.org Phone: 985-851-2134. You apparently read Chapter 7 as it was posted when we first ran "Blood on Brown Water" as a serial back in August. Now that we are in the new year we will be slowly replacing the 12 month archive with 2013 posts. Older posts are mostly going into a temporary archive in the INDEX section. However on line books that appeared as serials in 2012 are being maintained in their entirety in the relevant interest section. BLOOD ON BROWN WATER is in the MERCHANT MARINE INTEREST SECTION. Other chapters contain all sorts of contact information for relevant Congressional offices and similar contacts, but of course with recent and up coming elections this information is rapidly becoming dated. The book "BLOOD ON BROWN WATER" was written to support a lobbying effort called "THE NMA's SECOND REQUEST TO CONGRESS" for reform of maritime safety regulations. The effort was ignored by both parties last session, a new lobbying effort will start in the Spring. The problems go far beyond just the treatment of foreign seamen. Read the book on line to learn more click on our "Merchant Marine Interest Section.

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  4. Thank you Anna for taking the time to find this post since it dates back to August. This is but one chapter in the book "BLOOD ON BROWN WATER" which is available in it's entirety to read on line in our MERCHANT MARINE INTEREST SECTION.

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    1. Colby;
      Thank you for your comment and especially for reading Chapter 7 of BLOOD ON BROWN WATER. We have been in the process of taking down the installments of this book since we have posted it in it's entirety in the Merchant Marine Interest Section. We're glad that you and Anna, and Sophia and Julia and hopefully others who didn't comment were able to find chapter 7. As you know the 112th Congress has adjourned and the 113th has been sworn in. They continue to appear unable to govern. Yet once again the National Mariner's Association will climb up the Hill this Spring and yet another time present its "Second Request to Congress". While they have asked Congress to reform the occupational safety and health and some of the navigational safety rules for decades. This is only the "Second Request", because it is only the second regulatory reform proposal simply repeatedly submitted. About a decade ago, during a weak moment for the Work boat industry management lobby they actually got their first request through which more firmly established in law a 12 hour maximum work day for navigational officers. In this second request the NMA is asking that the 12 hour work day be granted to the rest of the crew among a few other safety regulatory changes that would at least bring the American work boat industry up to 19th century standards for the deep sea industry. The public has a stake in this through unintended contact with bridges called "allisions" in Admiralty law. We cover this aspect of the problem in Chapter 10. The entire book was only 79 pages in print. We urge you and all of our readers to at least read Chapter 10 to gain an understanding of what the public stands to gain from this much over due reform. We hope that you and everyone else who have taken the time to comment will suggest Chapters 7 and 10 at a minimum to your circle of friends , co-workers, or students. The entire book, originally only 79 printed pages is available by clicking on "MERCHANT MARINE INTEREST" in the right hand column of special interest sections as you enter the site and scrolling down past the links and book reviews. Please tell everyone you know who ever has to cross a bridge across a navigable body of water to read Chapter 10. Again thank you for reading and taking the time to comment, we deeply appreciate your interest.

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  7. Thank you for your kind words. We hope that you will alert others to
    "BLOOD ON BROWN", the entire book is available in our "MERCHANT MARINE INTEREST Section". Please tell others about this very short book which tells the story in human terms of why the NMA approached Congress last session and will continue to lobby this session despite the apparent inability of Congress to actually get anything done. The mariners need public support, and the public is endangered each time they cross a bridge across navigable waters by fatigue impaired mariners. But as the law presently stands Jones Act mariners can be worked virtually unlimited hours. There is no incentive for owners to hire adequately sized crews. Thank you.

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