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Tugboat pilots on strike.

Lake Village, Arkansas

One of the most dangerous occupations in America is tugboat pilot. Employees of the tugboat industry have nine times the death rate of the average U.S. worker. They work in cramped conditions, and towboat companies often refuse to allow pilots to communicate with their families while on the job or to leave the boat while at port.

On April 4, Pilots Agree, a union representing a third of the nation's 3,000 tugboat pilots, called for a strike.

The striking pilots also say that companies ask them to violate federal laws. If a radio, generator, or other equipment fails, pilots are required to report to the Coast Guard immediately. But the union says many tugboat operators prefer to be contacted first and to solve the problem from land without involving the Coast Guard.

The pilots also say they must often dump oily bilge into riverways or risk sinking because their boats are not equipped with the proper machinery to separate oil from the water that seeps in.

Pilots Agree plans to picket twelve locations along the Mississippi and the Gulf of Mexico, including Greenville, St. Louis, Houston, Mobile, and Memphis.

When the pilots went on strike, the towboat companies added to the hazards by hiring inexperienced pilots to navigate flood-swollen rivers. More than 2,000 people had to be evacuated and fifty suffered minor injuries when three barges crashed into a riverboat casino in St. Louis a few days after the strike began.

The seven-month-old union with a membership of 1,200 says it wants only one thing: a face-to-face meeting with management. And it is not giving up until the big companies talk.

"We will make an impact," says Dickey Mathes, the leader of Pilots Agree. "We are dealing with a Goliath, and we are a little old David."
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Title Annotation:On The Line; Pilots Agree union
Author:Parker, Suzi
Publication:The Progressive
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Jul 1, 1998
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