Pay Raise for Long Island Sound Memorandum of Agreement(MOA) Pilots Still in Doubt

The effort to bring the pay of Long Island Sound marine pilots into semi-parity with their peers elsewhere has once again stalled. MarEx has learned that the Connecticut Office of Policy and Management has firmly applied the brakes on the proposed pay increase, even as both houses of the New York legislature passed a virtually identical measure. The bill is poised to become law, with only an unlikely veto by the governor in its way. Ironically, approval in Connecticut is a much simpler matter, depending only on the approval of the governor once the recommendation is received from the Department of Transportation (DOT).

The long-overdue adjustment would increase pilot pay by about 6% annually for the three years that would follow enactment of the measure by both New York and Connecticut. The Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) under which pilots in Long Island Sound operate calls for cooperation between the states of Connecticut and New York in matters of pilotage there. The uneasy peace brought by the MOA has also brought artificially low pilotage rates to Long Island Sound, as the two states -- and the pilots that guide the ships in and out of the harbors -- frequently agree on little when it comes to how to regulate traffic in the Sound.

The proposed pay increase is long overdue. Sadly, the proposal, originally put forth by the Connecticut DOT (CDOT) and the Connecticut Pilot Commission, is being held up by interests in Connecticut. In New York, the proposal made it through committee study and two houses of legislature; seemingly a much more difficult task then the route necessary for passage in Connecticut. Two issues are muddying the waters there. Opponents of the proposed raise are questioning the effect that this move might have on the competitiveness of the Constitution State’s ports in relation to those in other states in close proximity. In addition, the proposal to divert the 6% of revenues, that the pilots already pay to the state’s general transportation fund, to another fund designed strictly for training and continued education for these professional mariners is being questioned.

The first caveat is just silly: raising the rates for MOA pilots would bring local Long Island Sound pilots to a level which equates to just 66% of the pay scales enjoyed by their New York Harbor colleagues and only 63% of that being paid to those pilots plying Narragansett Bay waters. Hardly parity. Arguably, Connecticut pilot rates represent the best value in America -- with or without the measly increase in pay. The issue surrounding the diversion of funds from one area to another (where the money could help local pilots improve their skills and keep abreast of changing regulations) seems to make a lot of sense. If safety really is the focus in today’s maritime world, then Connecticut needs to pay more than lip service to the concept. And holding up the first pay increase for these professionals in a quarter century, while bureaucrats contemplate which cost center those funds belong in, is just wrong.

When it is all said and done -- no matter what happens with the pay raise -- Connecticut could be doing a great deal more to ensure that its ports remain as attractive destinations for commercial traffic. A good place to start would be to bond and adequately fund dredging projects for major ports like New Haven, Bridgeport and New London. This, combined with a pay raise for pilots (which costs the state nothing and ultimately improves the tax base), would kill two proverbial birds with one stone. Connecticut wins by promoting not only an attractive port destination -- but a safer one, as well.

Chuck Beck, CDOT’s Maritime Transportation Manager, is on record as supporting the raise for the pilots. He told MarEx on Wednesday that, “The raise proposal is fair, for everyone: pilots, industry and the state.” Beyond this, he said, “It would not have been forwarded to the governor had it not received broad support from the Connecticut Pilot Commission and the Connecticut Department of Transportation.” The ultimate irony of this mess is that the state of New York has already stepped up to the plate to approve a proposal first put forth by the state of Connecticut. It is high time for the Constitution State to do the same. MOA pilots, languishing for the past 24 years in a sub-standard compensation package, deserve nothing less.

Joseph Keefe is the Managing Editor of The Maritime Executive. He can be reached at jkeefe@maritime-executive.com with comments and feedback.