Tugboat Workers Strike
For the first time in nearly two decades, tugboat workers are going on strike.
The strike, which is over staffing levels on boats, is a fairly small one. It is against a small company called Kosnac, which has only about a dozen union employees and two boats.
Even so, the union sees the strike, which started on Monday, as important because of the precedent it sets.
“If the union were to agree to a reduction for manning on this company, every other company is going to ask for the same thing,” said Louie Nikolaidis, the general counsel for Local 333 of the Local Marine Division. “They are asking for concessions on safety that the unions can’t accept.”
Kosnac’s company’s president, Veronica Kosnac Raffone, has not yet returned a request for comment.
According to the union, the company wanted to drop deckhand staffing by one person on the boats, and have the engineers pick up some of the deckhand work. “You can’t do it with two deckhands — it’s suicide,” said William Harrigan, the president of the union. “
They are at skeleton crews as it is.” The company’s two boats are run on 24-hour shifts, he said.
Mr. Harrigan said that the workers, understanding the state of the economy, had agreed to a wage freeze and found other ways to help the company save money — by finding cheaper dental and eye insurance, for example. But they were unwilling to compromise on safety because much of a deck worker’s job involves jumping from barge to barge to tie them together, sometimes in the middle of the night, sometimes in turbulent water. Deckhands have to be well rested or they risk being injured, he said.
Mr. Nikolaidis said, “No other companies operate legally with a lesser manning.”
Tugboat strikes have popped up occasionally in New York City history. In the 1940s, a 12-day tugboat strike nearly brought New York to a standstill because so much was moved by the humble boats. Coal to make electricity and heat buildings was practically exhausted. Food supplies were menaced. Another strike began in 1988 and theoretically lasted seven years, though few if any boats stopped moving, and most union members were back at work before the union officially ended the strike. By that time, highways, pipelines and container ships had displaced much of what tugboats did.