FIGHT MODERN IMPRESSMENT
SUE YOUR HEADHUNTER!
Last Summer we carried the serial book BLOOD ON BROWN WATER which outlined and detailed the many abuses of occupational safety and health conditions that far too many Jones Act American seamen endure. The book which is still available to read in our MERCHANT MARINE INTEREST SECTION was part of the National Mariners Association's Second Request To Congress for corrective action. Of course the Congress hasn't passed a budget in three years much less addressed in a serious manner any of the rest of the nation's vital business. The reforms go unanswered. As illustrated above there never was a time in history when being a seaman was an easy occupation, though there have been times when a few seamen in particular sectors of the industry were well compensated for their endurance of the rigors of the sea. However, regardless of how fond the British were of impressment for naval service, and despite the use by American Merchant Marine companies of Shanghai techniques in crewing, all manner of involuntary servitude for seamen has been illegal in the United States since the foundation of the Republic.
The U.S.towing industry and the U.S. offshore service vessel industry are both suffering personnel shortages. Instead of offering better compensation, better scheduling, safer work environments to compete for the available labor, and attract new entrants the industry has turned to "head hunters", otherwise referred to as employment agencies. There is nothing wrong with this method of recruitment as long as the employer pays the employment agency fees. However in most cases they don't and because of hundreds of years of abusive employment practices in the crewing of ships even employee paid recruitment services are in most cases prohibited by law. By using prospective employee paid recruitment / screening services the employer transfers much of the cost of a human resources department directly to the perspective employee. It's a cheap shot anywhere but certain typical practices in the head hunting industry just happen to be illegal in vessel crewing operations. The big issue is the contract that must be signed between the seaman and the head hunter where in the seaman must pledge a certain portion of his wages for a specific period of time when employment is secured. U.S. Maritime law generally prohibits most employment related contracts for seamen where in any portion of wages are pledged in advance of receipt.
For many years the the National Mariner's Association (NMA) has argued that the current work boat industry crew recruitment practices involving typical "employment agencies" are illegal.
Unfortunately in the last three years few organizations or individuals short of the usual big money "Belt Way Bandits" have been able to get any serious attention out of a Congress bogged down over partisan squabbling. The Coast Guard eliminated their "shipping agents" who used to at least attend the signing of articles and discharge of merchant seamen on American flag international trading vessels a couple of decades ago. While the Coast Guard is in fact charged with enforcing some of what would be considered US." labor laws" they have largely refused to get involved in anything they consider a labor issue. A lawyer friend of the NMA has decided to tackle this issue. Dennis O'Bryan has filed suites over the issue and is taking on clients on a contingency fee basis ( no fee unless your case is won) who have signed and paid under such contracts. He has provided the NMA with some reports of his progress and for many the outlook so far appears hopeful for recovery of fees. But the goal is an end to the abusive practice.
Parts of the work boat industry have a personnel shortage because of poor working conditions. A response of pushing recruitment cost onto the remaining workers is not a cure. The ultimate goal should be the kind of class action that would cost the abusing members of the industry more than the short term savings they receive by violating the law. We can pretty much forget the idea that the U.S. Coast Guard will ever come in and enforce the regulations, or that the Congress will put real teeth in the present penalties. So to America's Jones Act seamen put it to you simply. It is up to you. If you have been made to sign a recruitment contract assigning a portion of your wages before receipt at any time in your career you can lend the strength of either your individual case to be filed for recovery and precedent value, or the weight of your case as part of some future class . You won't know what you can do until you explore your case with a legal professional. So we urge you call :1-800-627-9267 today. Its a free call and you will incur no legal fees unless your case is taken and won. If there are enough cases filed and won the abuse may stop well before the last case is settled. But rest assured that as far as the NMA has been able to observe there is no enforcement except through the courts today. In the interest of full disclosure we want you to know that Mr. O'Bryan is not a paid advertiser of this publication. However some of our staff are licensed Merchant Marine Officers and dues paying active members of the NMA and have some occasional personal contact with Mr. O'Bryan and other law firms friendly to, or members of the NMA.