March 2010

Back to Issue


Update on the Habitability Arbitration Cases

Civmar NewsAs many CIVMARS are aware, since 2006 the SIU has brought a series of grievances to MSC on behalf CIVMARS who have been provided sub-standard quarters. Several of these grievances were tried at arbitration hearings when MSC and the union could not agree on a resolution to these cases. These cases involved shore-side and shipboard quarters.


On January 26, 2010 the union received an award for the CIVMARS on the USNS Grapple. The arbitrator awarded unlicensed CIVMARS $40 per day quarters allowance for the poor habitability conditions on this T-ARS vessel.

This three-year effort to ensure habitable quarters, or compensation in the event habitable quarters are not provided, has been supported by many hardworking and dedicated CIVMARS. Throughout the years CIVMARS have worked tirelessly to provide much of the evidence needed to win these cases. Many CIVMAR witnesses took time to testify at the hearings. Without CIVMAR testimony, it would be difficult to prevail in these cases.

Each case represents years of work and many thousands of dollars in litigation costs. SIU officials have noted that the quest for a habitable-quarters standard aboard MSC vessels is comparable to the civil rights movement. It is a long journey with victories and setbacks and can only be accomplished with CIVMAR support.

Here is a summary of the decisions so far and status of other arbitration cases:

1. 2007 – Days Inn Hotel: Arbitrator awarded $40 for a certain period of time to CIVMARS required to stay at the sub-standard hotel while assigned to the East Coast CSU.

2. 2008 – USNS GRASP: The first case in the T-ARS class. The arbitrator awarded $13 (amount of lodging pay from 1979 found in the East Coast collective bargaining) for those CIVMARS assigned four persons to a room. The union argued that this amount was updated by the $40 rate found in the CMPI. The union appealed this ruling to the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA) in Washington, D.C.

During the Bush Administration the FLRA decisionmaking process was negatively impacted. FLRA members (judges) were not appointed quickly. If a member resigned they were not quickly replaced. As a result, the backlog of cases before the FLRA grew to several years long.

The union has been advised that the decisions on backlog cases are being made as quickly as possible and generally the oldest cases – which would include the Grasp – are being reviewed before the newer cases.

3. 2008 – USNS COMFORT: MSC provided $30 quarters pay to CIVMARS sleeping in quarters with more than four persons to an area. The arbitrator awarded $40 habitability pay. MSC appealed the decision to the FLRA in 2008. The union requested that the Grasp and Comfort appeals be combined. We are awaiting a decision from the FLRA.

4. 2009 – USNS Grapple: The second case in the TARS class. $40 per day awarded retroactive to May 21, 2007 and payable until the vessel is modified to provide habitable quarters. MSC may now file exceptions to the decision before the FLRA if MSC believes the arbitrator made an error in his decision. An appeal must be made in 30 days.

5. Habitability cases for the West Coast vessels the Salvor (2007) and Mercy (2009) and the USS Emory Land (2009): The union filed habitability grievances for employees aboard the Salvor, the third in TAR-S class of vessels, the USNS Mercy and the Emory Land.

See below for more information regarding these cases.

While all of the arbitrators in the above cases found that habitability conditions aboard the vessels were inadequate, one arbitrator varied on the amount of quarters pay they awarded to CIVMARS.

Future Plans
While the parties await the FLRA appeal decision, the union is evaluating its options as to how to proceed in the cases which have been filed but not yet arbitrated. Information regarding this decision will be sent to CIVMARS via a CIVMAR-GRAM, Seafarers LOG article, web-site posting and CSU and shipboard meetings.

CMPI 610 Negotiation Update
In January of this year the LOG reported that MSC, the SIU, MEBA and MM&P had received interest-based bargaining training in anticipation of CMPI 610 – Hours of Work and Premium Pay negotiations.

The parties agreed to use the interest-based bargaining process for these discussions. Generally, negotiations for CMPI 610 are taking place the first week of each month.

Over the last two sessions the parties have been discussing the CMPI 610 General Provisions. Thus far, the negotiation process has been quite thorough with the parties reviewing each line of every section.

One of the main goals of the parties is to ensure that the CMPI revisions make this Instruction clearer and more user-friendly for unlicensed and licensed CIVMARS fleet wide.

Licensed and unlicensed subject matter experts are in attendance to assist the negotiators during the negotiations. Bosun Byron Costa attended the February negotiations. Costa has significant sailing experience in both the private and government maritime sectors. He has sailed in both the east and west coast MSC fleets. Costa has also had prior negotiation experience using traditional negotiation techniques.

Before his arrival at the negotiations, the union provided Costa with IBB training materials. This written information was supplemented with three hours of additional preparation with union representatives and SIU counsel.

In addition to obtaining Costa’s expertise for the General Provisions sections, during off hours, union representatives worked with him to review all CMPI 610 sections related to the deck department for information regarding current deck plate work and the application of CMPI 610 payment practices. This will be of great value when the unlicensed deck section language is discussed.

Costa noted that these negotiations were important “because the CMPI 610 needs to be updated and simplified.”

In addition, he said, “CIVMARS will benefit from a better organized Instruction.”

Costa also shared his views regarding the IBB process used in these negotiations.

“After reading about the IBB process I was very skeptical that it would work,” he said. Costa found however that this process allowed for “all representatives from labor and MSC to be treated with respect and that led to productive discussions.” Costa further noted that his “participation at these negotiations was hard work, but a great learning experience.”

Chet Wheeler, assistant vice president for the SIU Government Services unit concluded that Costa’s contributions at the discussions were extremely important.

Once again, the union will continue to update CIVMARS regarding the progress of CMPI 610 negotiations with future articles and other communications.

Share |