Question about Deckhands and Cook on tugboat


         I was recently employed on a tugboat on the great lakes. I was stuck on the boat for 1 month, I enjoyed it. However, I often worked 40+ hours grinding and painting the boat and barge, but only got paid for 30 hours (10.50 /hr) worth of work. One week I worked 68 hours in total, but only received 56 hours of pay. When I asked, he informed me he didn't pay for my lunch breaks, but often would demand you get back to work when finished eating. We were never allowed to leave the boat when docked, and often told what we can and can't do in our down time. It felt like being in jail. My question is can I contact someone on to get paid for the missing hours they claim was lunch/breaks? if so who?

The cook, whom I became good friends with, has been on the boat for over 2 months with no down time. As we talked, he discovered that he gets paid less than I did, and had more responsibilities. He would cook all 3 meals a day, kept inventory of the food, on top of keeping the galley and pilot house clean, he was also responsible for line handling with the deckhands, and has to stand on front of the barge and radio in boats while the captain navigated through blue water river. The captain also had asked him to keep track of deckhands hours, and train the new deckhands. (in my one month, I seen 5 new deckhands come and go) When I left he had asked me too find out how long the captain can make him work with no shore time. So his question is, How many days is it legal for him to work before he’s required to get shore leave? Also, shouldn’t he be fairly compensated for all of the extra responsibilities?

Just a Vent & Info

This was a 140 foot tug. He owned 2 barges, one with a massive crane. We would push one barge, and the other would get towed. We had a 4 man crew, 2 deckhands, the cook and the captain. (5 if you count the dog that pooped everywhere and tore into the trash on a day to day basis, you can guess who cleaned that up!) The captain had rented his services to a construction company that was laying water lines running too flint. He often was out there telling the workers how incompetent his crew was, aswell as bad mouthing our fellow crew to one of us. Never a positive remark from him. The beds were horrible, the mattresses were so old the springs were coming right out of the mattress! he frames of the bed were held together by duct tape! My cabin actually had a leak in the ceiling and smelt like mildew! We had no screens to cover our windows, and couldn’t open them for fear of giant spiders coming into bite us. The flies were horrible, and the cook did his best to keep our meals safe, but again no screens o help fight them off. The lines we had to handle smelt like dog pee, and often had fresh dog poop covering them. I seen the captain’s quarters one day, and it looked like one of those hoarders home you would see on TV. The dog had flies eatings its rear end, and was constantly shedding its fur and wasn’t a surprise to find its fur in your meal.

Thanks for taking the time to read this, and for any answers you may provide. I do intend on finding a job again as a deckhand, but I will never work for this guy again!

Call a lawyer, or your state’s labor agency (attorney general’s office in some states) if you have a legitimate claim I’m sure they’ll be all over it. Labor laws are pretty weak for mariners in some ways though. You have to vote with your feet and not work for shit owners.

Yes listen to z-drive…
In California, where about 80% of my career has been spent, things have become very convoluted with how a mariner gets paid in certain situations…i.e. liveaboard, captured, etc. Now of course not all the boat companies (not that there are many here) practice them…mainly just the ones that have been sued over the years…for experiences similar to yours…

You definitely entered encountered the soft yellow underbelly of the U.S. maritime world.
That being said, z-drive is right. A lawyer is the way to go to get your missing pay–if you truly are missing it. Be aware that the lawyer doesn’t work for free. He wants his cut. The lawyer will write a letter threatening litigation to the tug’s operating company (which you suggest is also the skipper). In this case the lawyer will bill you for his time, a bill which may exceed the amount of money you may (or may not have) coming to you. Or the lawyer will file a lawsuit. A lawsuit takes time and money, which you don’t have. So the lawyer will look to get 1/3 of whatever he can get out of the plaintiff in your behalf as his fee. Since your missing pay is likely not anywhere near enough to pay the lawyer’s bill the lawyer will doubtless add a lengthy list of transgressions to the lawsuit, real and imagined, chief among which is unseaworthiness of the vessel (a highly technical term with only a vague relation to what you think it means). You may or may not win the case. But it will take a lot of time (months/years) for the suit to go through. I’m not saying this to dissuade you from any particular course of action. Most shoddy boat operators fold under the threat of litigation due to deceptive payroll practices for two reasons 1)the cost of battling the litigation, 2)the facts uncovered in the discovery phase of the litigation exposes the plaintiff to the wrath of the State, who wants its cut in the form of taxes based on your hours. When the skipper shorted your hours (if he did), he shorted the State in taxes. If the State finds out it will not go well with the operator. So the easiest plan for you is to find a lawyer who will write that threatening letter for you for a reasonable bill, commensurate with the pay you have coming to you. That usually does it, and you have the altruistic satisfaction of making sure the next guy doesn’t get taken.
A few words, if you go the lawsuit route. Everything comes out in the discovery process of a lawsuit. The plaintiff has a lawyer, too, and his job is to rip your story and your character to shreds. You make a case of a disreputable boat operator stealing from you and forcing you to work in unsavory conditions. Do you have facts on your side? Did the skipper do anything illegal? No illegality, no lawsuit. If you didn’t keep good track of your hours, or you are exaggerating the conditions you worked under, or you are “making a mountain out of a mole hill” or number of mole hills, or–and this is worst–no one on the boat will back up your story–be prepared to be raked over the coals by the plaintiff’s lawyer and lose. Contrary to some persons’ opinions not every lawsuit is a slam dunk, and there are times when your lawyer will look to you to pay court costs if you lose the case. Most times it is easier to walk away from a job poorer but wiser.
In my experience the attorney general-route takes much, much more time than the options outlined above. It does have the virtue of costing nothing but your time.

If you can’t take care of yourself on the deck of a tug without a lawyer you need to get off and get a job eleswhere.

By the way, a few more observations about your questions:

  1. It would be unusual for any employer to pay you for a lunch break. It would be unusual for any employer not to demand you return to work immediately after lunch.
  2. Pay/responsibilities. There is no equation between the two. When you drag Justice into Commerce you usually just end up with indigestion. You and the cook are entitled to the pay you signed a contract for. No more or less.
  3. There is no federal regulation I am aware of that states how many days you must have off in relation to the number of days you work. Those things are covered under employer contracts or union agreements. If you have a contract with a company for 90 days and it does not mention “days off” then you don’t have any days off. Bottom line: You can leave the boat whenever you wish but the employer has the right to fire you for doing so.
  4. Federal law says you can’t work more than 12 hours per day on a tug, unless the boat is in danger. There’s more to it than that, but essentially that’s the Law.
  5. Things like the dog shit and the flies don’t fall under the CFRs (though I may be wrong and would welcome education in that regard from another mariner). Disgusting, yes. Illegal, no. No illegality, no case.
  6. Neanderthal captain: not illegal.
  7. Crappy living conditions, as described: not illegal.
  8. Captain telling you what you can or can’t do in your downtime: need more information on that. A captain can legally ban you from a lot of things: drinking, drugs, gambling, fighting, fishing, even consensual sex.
    Focus on this question: did you [I][B]work[/B][/I] hours you did not get paid for? If you did the employer owes you money. Go after it.

freighterman raised some good points.

It sounds like this was a starter job to get some experience and such. The easiest thing to do is just find another job. Throughout my career, when things fizzle out or I am just burnt, I simply move on. Talking to a lawyer and stuff sounds great at first, but it will be a long battle. Then when you go interview for another job you get to explain your last employer and why you left. Not a fun interview subject, even if you were right.
Now luckily for me I have not worked for such a blatant shitbird as your captain, but I have had some experiences regarding what hours am I working. Do I have an hourly rate? Day rate? etc…
Were you supposed to work a month long hitch? You gotta remember a lot of places have a policy that you can’t get off the boat usually till your time is up. This is usually because some asshole before you ruined it for everybody else by showing back up drunk or not at all, and/or the boats schedule doesn’t allow the luxury of going ashore and letting the badger out to play.

A good example of a job I left one time because of the grey area of hours worked, was a boat I was running. It had a four man crew. Capt, mate, two deckhands. We were working for a platform that was running us 24 hrs. There were sometimes a few days straight when we just stood by, then other times when things were busy we could run over a week straight. The platform was only ten miles offshore, so after hours of liveboating doing cargo, it was only a 45 minute run in to a waiting crane and backload. The office’s argument was ‘you have two captains you are a 24hr boat.’ Problem was, deckhands did the rigging. My argument was ‘we are doing block lifts and I need two guys on deck. Deckhands are supposed to pull 20 hr days?’ They retorted with ‘what about the two days straight you sat on the buoy standing by?’ Well, while we ran non stop lo a behold I have oil changes and other maintenance to do now…

Before your next job, clarify important subjects such as watch schedule, hourly rate, day rate, etc…make a solid attempt to know exactly what you are getting into so you can have surprises down to a minimum. Take this as a learning experience.

Run, not walk, away from that šhìt hole prison boat. There is no reason for you to continue working in those conditions. A lawyer might not be worth the trouble, just find another job.

Also I have to ask, is this one of the captains and boats that was on that phucking pharse of a tv show about Great Lakes tugs?

Wash your hands