Seafarers' Award of Overtime Pay Upheld by Court of Appeals

Seafarers from Washington and other Pacific Coast ports can feel assured that maritime law provides just compensation for ship workers based on a recent appellate decision affirming an award for overtime pay. A class of injured and sick seafarers sought unearned wages and overtime pay, as part of the calculation for the wages they would have earned from the time of their discharge to the end of the voyage, otherwise known as lost wages. The seafarers were paid earned wages, maintenance and cure, and unearned base wages, but not overtime pay. The employer, an international shipping line, regularly paid overtime wages in excess of 100% of the base, and the seafarers reasoned that under maritime law, the overtime wages should also have been paid.

The shipping company argued that overtime pay, even overtime that was routinely paid out, was never intended to be included within the definition of "unearned wages". The seafarers countered that to be placed in the same position as they would have been, overtime must be included. This type of wage is traditionally made at either the end of the voyage or the end of the contract.

The lower court considered the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between the workers' union (the Seafarers International Union) and the international shipping company. The agreement did not specifically include overtime pay as compensation for unearned wages, so the lower court determined that calculating overtime pay was appropriate under maritime law. When damages are calculated, they cannot be considered "speculative" and must be amounts that would have been earned "but for" the illness or injury. The court looked to the shipping line history of readily calculating each seaman's overtime compensation based on the records of past work. The appellate court affirmed that the inclusion of overtime met maritime law criteria, and that collective bargaining agreements can limit, but not abolish, the application of long-standing maritime law principles.

Other federal appellate courts, including the 9th Circuit, have also applied the "but for" test. Tips and accumulated leave are considered to be unearned, or lost, wages that must be paid to ill and injured seafarers. These cases show that if any wages are routinely earned by workers onboard cruise lines or shipping vessels, then they should be factored into any calculation made for lost wages. These are sums that would have been earned if the seaman had not been injured or become ill.

Experienced Washington Maritime Wage Claim attorneys, Gordon Webb and John Merriam know that shipping companies and cruise lines fail to provide the compensation seafarers deserve. We know that household budgets are based on the expectation of pay, and if those aren't met, a seafarer's family could fall under financial strain. If you have been discharged from service due to an injury or illness and feel that you are owed compensation, call one of our esteemed lawyers today for a free, confidential consultation at 425.454.3800 for the Bellevue office and 206.729.5252 for the Seattle office.

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