Should Mariner Wage Scales Be Posted?

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.

Government scales are public info.

I’ll help. Wages are based on 8 hour workday. OT is variable

Wages are different company to company as are benefits and other perks. Companies don’t like to advertise all of their perks for a variety of different reasons and most people don’t like to talk about pay on the boat for the same reason you don’t talk about religion or politics. It’s just bad form and causes discontent aboard the boat. In most companies that are non Union a persons pay isn’t a set scale based on “rank” (AB, Mate, Master). It’s usually fluid based on license, experience, military background, and what the person was able to negotiate when they were hired. If someone else at the company has the same license but less experience or less time in a particular industry (towing vs OSV’s) their pay can vary greatly and if everyone knew what the next guy was making the office would hear bitching all day long from people wanting equal pay even though in a lot of cases they don’t deserve what the other guy makes because he is much more experienced. So to answer your question in my own humble opinion pay should not be posted in the galley or on some forum because it won’t actually tell the true tale of why someone makes more or less and benefits have a lot to do with pay and depending on the person benefits might be more important than $15 a day more… The whole subject is not as cut and dry as you make it out to be.

Thanks for the link. However, while thanking Workboat magazine for their efforts, I find their survey to be less than accurate.

I attended the mariner’s compensation seminar at the International Workboat Show in NOLA right after this particular report came out. Turns out the data was gained by readers of Workboat Magazine self-reporting their income. Most of the readers responding were shoreside workers,not mariners, and they were in middle and upper management. And yet, from the discussion that was given to us in the seminar, these shoreside wages were correlated to seagoing wages. There was little scientific rigor, that I could see, in the survey. The highly paid upper management person reading a magazine in an office, with plenty of spare time for such things, is going to be more likely to report his salary to Workboat Mag than the modestly paid deckhand on the back of a tug. Yet their wages were correlated the same. At least that was the impression I got at the seminar. Moreover the majority of shoreside workers that were self-reporting worked in GOM, which at the time was seeing an uptick in wages not yet reflected in the rest of the U.S, for the most part.

I remember sitting in the audience at the seminar as the presenters solemnly informed us that the average mariner in the GOM was making $120,000/year. No doubt many mariners were making that, but the average? Many of us in the audience began to look at each other, plainly shocked, as if to say, Who’s paying their people that much, because I know where I work ABs aren’t averaging $120k/year! If you correlate the Workboat data with the U.S. Bureau of Labor data for mariner wages there is a large discrepancy. As of May 2013 the U.S. Board of Labor statistics says that “Captains, Mates,and Pilots” in “Deep Sea, Coastal, and Great Lakes employment” had a national median wage of $80,960, way below what Workboat Magazine was reporting, even for the West Coast, and that was for deck officers, not certificated and uncertificated people. BLS gets their data by sending surveys directly to maritime businesses, on an annual basis.

So, while I appreciate your taking the time to find the link, I would not trust the Workboat magazine report. It would be interesting if someone at Workboat read this thread and got back to us with their methodology about how they got their numbers.

Factor in OT and vacation and you can just about double the wages reported for officers in the deep sea world.

i admit I don’t know all the AMO contracts but I don’t know a single 3rd out here today who makes less than 100k with OT and vacation included.

But the bigger question is, should the data be posted in a central clearinghouse like a forum, or should the information be opaque as possible, in case companies collude against workers?

maybe. This is such a small industry that it really isn’t too hard to find out what pay scales are. In union companies, all that info is available for easy access.

It cuts both ways. With shipping the way it is now I could easily see someone calling HR and offering to work for less than the publicly posted wage just So they can get back to work or get the time they need to upgrade.

The wage scale I posted above is based on a full year’s employment, without OT factored in. 8 hour day. Obviously you can do pretty well, especially during the field season, when we are out to sea almost all the time and working 2 to 4 hours OT per day and the weekends are all OT. Leave is accrued biweekly based on longevity.

[QUOTE=brjones;191025]i admit I don’t know all the AMO contracts but I don’t know a single 3rd out here today who makes less than 100k with OT and vacation included.[/QUOTE]

And you obviously dont know the lower paying MMP contracts…

sure don’t. I should have said 3ae

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?

How are we different than any other industry? Of course everyone wants to know what everyone else makes and leverage that information for their personal benefit. The same words from the OP can be used just replacing the job titles and industry name and it’s all the same. If you’re disgruntled for whatever reason, you look elsewhere and figure out your options. Low-paying vs high-paying companies tend to balance out over time and is generally reflected in the quality of their employees and/or retention rate. Boom and bust cycles are gonna happen in specific sectors for any number of reasons. I’m sure some companies colluded on wages when it benefits them, while others are in direct competition for the same people.

Any number of arguments can be made about the ability to use good data in your favor, but I don’t think that is what we’re going to get here and it certainly won’t change the industry. I’m not opposed to posting compensation information if a poster starts a thread asking specifics. But we should be wary of the broader accuracy of this information to make informed career decisions. Using information posted in a forum is incomplete at best, suffers from pretty severe selection bias, and has no way to control for the myriad of variables out there regarding the hows and whys of peoples’ compensation. Just like any other online review, voluntary data will be mostly from the best and the worst, with no idea of how it should be weighted either way. You’ll get a few strong-headed/eloquently-worded opinions to give some false confidence, and a whole lot of anecdotes that statistically mean nothing on a broader scale. What company is going to give any credence to this flawed data?

The best leverage an employee will ever have when seeking a wage is, and always has been, a higher offer from another company. I’d wager that most companies already have an idea of the pay scales of their competitors, it’s just good business – maybe that’s already factored into the compensation package, maybe they’re waiting for you to force the issue. But generally, if you feel you’re getting the short end of the stick and your resume doesn’t fetch the kind of pay you’re hoping for elsewhere, no amount of information is going to change that.

Having worked at companies where day rates were rather arbitrary (how bad were they hurting for deck officers and how much did they like you) and we were cautioned (illegally) not to discuss our pay amongst ourselves … and now working on a union contract where every single person knows how much every other person is making, I have to say that the latter heads-off a lot of onboard resentment and intrigue.

I’m old enough to remember when the unions, licensed and unlicensed, had standard contracts for tankers and dry cargo and would publish the wage scales in their respective newspapers i.e. The SIU Log, The NMU Pilot, The MEBA Marine Journal, etc. This transparency ended in the early 80’s when wages started to nose dive chiefly in response to the SIU and AMO’s willingness to low ball “sweetheart” contracts.