Should Mariner Wage Scales Be Posted?
Few things are as holy to the American mariner as how much he or she makes. To be crude, pay is like genitalia: few people want to expose their own, but many have no problem ogling over other’s. The societal rules about talking about pay are a curious phenomenon. The ogling of genitalia falls under moral and religious strictures. But the taboo about talking about pay is harder to understand. Maybe our hesitation is because money excites the greed center of our brain, and greed makes us do strange, ugly things. It’s a lesson we learn early in childhood. Anyway, enough moralizing…
The question is: Should the wage scale of American mariners, in all the various maritime trades, be posted regularly and often in forums such as these, allowing mariners to make informed decisions about where they should work?
I have read in these forums the argument opposed to this: that posting wage scales allows company owners to “fix” the wages of mariners. For example, if the going rate for a tug AB in the GOM is known to be $300/day at one company, Jeaux Boss and his brethren will collude and hold the line for AB wages for all GOM companies.
That presupposes, of course, that Jeaux Boss, or any other company owner, is ignorant of how much a mariner at a given position makes somewhere else. Even supposing all mariners were uniformly closed-mouthed about their wages, wouldn’t Jeaux Boss just ask his buddy on the golf course how much the going rate was at his or her business? When all the Jeaux Bosses of the U.S. get together for their annual Christmas Cotillion, in their plush secret bunker under Fort Knox, couldn’t we expect them to chortle over the peanuts they pay their minions, hmmm? Can we reasonably expect company owners to be ignorant of something as important to their bottom line as the competition’s wage scale?
Couldn’t an argument be raised that if mariners at the lowest echelon of pay knew how much the highest echelon made, they could reasonably demand a pay raise, with the argument that if they did not get it they would move on? If the wages for tug ABs in the Northeast doesn’t keep pace with that in the West, ABs could tell their bosses they have a strong incentive to go West. maybe not today, with a down maritime labor market, but things will change.They usually do.
Now, some will argue that a company owner doesn’t care about the quality of his or her workers, and so wouldn’t care if their best mariners went elsewhere. And in some companies this would certainly be the case. But maritime businesses are no less dog-eat-dog than any other U.S. industry. Competition is intense. When competition is tight, many companies will try to retain their best people.
Remember the rapid escalation in wages GOM just a few years ago? It may have been a temporary aberration in GOM, but it lead to a sizable increase in pay in many other maritime trades, because many of the best mariners were lured away to GOM. To retain good people companies elsewhere had to raise wages. Not to rub salt in the wounds, but outside GOM the wages didn’t go back down again after the Great Collapse. If the Jeaux Bosses of the world colluded, wouldn’t all maritime wages in the U.S. have gone back down? They didn’t, arguing nothing more, perhaps, than retaining good quality workers is important to many companies. In this instance, the advertising of GOM’s wage scale, informal as it was, was a great thing for all U.S. mariners.
As it is for pay, so it could go for benefits: health insurance, 401K, pensions, etc.
So the question is, is it better to a have a central clearinghouse for mariners’ wage scales, broken down by trade, license, certificates, region etc, or is it better to keep the present informal system of information sharing? Notice I didn’t list “not sharing” as an option, because experience shows this is not possible.