The cruise lines are at it again. Through their lobbyists who “work with” some members of Congress, the cruise lines are proposing a bill, HR 4005, which would prevent foreign workers on cruise ships, owned and operated by companies with headquarters right here in the U.S. and many here in Miami, from exercising their rights to file suit here in the U.S.
Who are these workers? They are the state room attendants, chefs, officers, engine room oilers, entertainers, and all of the onboard employees. They work 7 days a week for 10 to 12 hours a day. They live and work on the ship thousands of miles away from home for 6 to 9 months at a time. At the end of the 6 to 9 month contract, they are rehired for another contract only if they did a good enough job on the last contract. That means that these workers have to apply for a job all over again every year at least once.
Who are these cruise lines? They are multi billion dollar corporations which for the most part are based in the U.S. and whose incomes are derived for the most part from passengers who are U.S. citizens; Over 13 million U.S. citizens take cruises every year. Yet, these companies do not pay U.S. income tax and they do not follow U.S. labor laws, either for rates of pay or for working conditions.
This proposal is a job killer for the American worker. This bill would guarantee that the cruise lines will never hire U.S. citizens to work onboard their vessels. If the non U.S. citizen cannot recover in the United States under U.S. law, the cruise lines then have a huge disincentive to hire the American worker.
Second, the concept of cutting off and disallowing the foreign seaman from suing in the United States when their employers are based on the U.S. isagainst hundreds of years of maritime law. The proposed legislation would apply to all cruise line employees. All of the cruise ships and in fact practically all ships in the world today are foreign flagged. The fact that they are foreign flagged is a way to avoid 2 things: taxes and regulation. The cruise lines are excellent at avoiding both. They should not be allowed to avoid owning up to their responsibilities under the General Maritime Law to provide a safe place for seaman to work, and to pay the damages (under the Jones Act and the law of Unseaworthiness) and “maintenance and cure” (daily living expenses and prompt and adequate medical expenses until the worker reaches maximum medical improvement).
Third, if the cruise lines are not held accountable in U.S. Courts, we all know that they will not take care of their employees the way they should. We have represented seaman from cruise ships for over 17 years. We have seen the way that the cruise lines treat the workers on these ships. When seamen get injured, they are treated at the ship’s infirmary by the shipboard doctors. These doctors are paid by the cruise line and trained or advised by the cruise line that they need the workers back on the line to work even if injured. These cruise line doctors commonly under diagnose all injuries and conditions.
When the seaman needs surgery or is injured for life as we have seen, the cruise lines typically fly the seaman back to their country and let the seamen fend for themselves. The cruise line then largely ignores the seamen’s pleas for help. We have seen seamen with back injuries so severe that the seamen cannot walk, sit, or stand for one minute without pain because of a herniated disc and injured nerve roots from the spine. This is called Chronic Pain Syndrome. In some people it is a permanent condition. Yet the cruise lines ignore this. Even in litigation in the U.S., the cruise lines fight even where they know that they are in the wrong and know that injuries from the ship have left a young man injured for life with a spine injury and the inability to work again ever.
The cruise lines should not be allowed to get away with this. This law would allow further abuse by the cruise lines of a hard working group of people by corporations which do not even pay their fair share of taxes.
Contact your Congressional representatives today and urge them to vote no on House Bill 4005.