Cruise ship employees’ employment contracts are “considered as commercial” under Title 9 of the United States Code. Therefore, arbitration provisions contained in their employment contracts can be enforced by the employer. Rogers v. Royal Caribbean Cruise Line (9th Cir. Cal.) __ F.3d __, 2008 WL 4811882.
Have you ever wondered why the staff on those ships seem to come from every corner of the Earth except the U.S.? It's so the ship can hire people at wage rates like the ones described in this passage:
Michael Rogers, a citizen of Trinidad and Tobago, and Hulya Kar, a citizen of Turkey, worked on cruise ships operated by Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. (“Royal Caribbean”). Rogers worked as a “cabin boy” and “stateroom attendant,” and Kar worked as an assistant waiter.
Counsel for Rogers and Kar have stipulated that both employees signed a written employment agreement with Royal Caribbean. Kar’s employment agreement provided that Royal Caribbean would pay her $50 in “[m]onthly basic pay,” and that she was entitled to $890 in “[m]onthly [g]uaranteed [p]ay including [g]uaranteed [o]vertime.” According to the employment agreement, “the monthly guaranteed pay is inclusive of all gratuities provided by passengers.”
They need overtime to get to their guaranteed $890 per month ($10,680 a year)? Ouch. For American's working at sea, the wage protections are much greater than they are for foreign workers. As Judge Noonan's dissent points out:
Among the statutes enacted by the First Congress was the Act of July 20, 1790 establishing a seaman’s right to the prompt payment of his wages and a remedy for this right in federal court. 1 Stat. 133. No other class of contracts was so marked off. No other class of potential plaintiffs was provided with a timetable in terms of which the debt owed them had to be paid. Seamen’s wages were bound by law to the ship the seamen sailed. A lien on the vessel for their payment was “so sacred” that “it adheres to the last plank of the ship.” Sheppard v. Taylor, 30 U.S. 675, 710 (1831) (per Story, J.).
The connection of ship and wages due was such that it could be said that a seaman’s wages “are nailed to the ship.” The Eclipse, 58 F. 273, 277 (N.D. Cal. 1892). This extraordinary solicitude for seamen — this linkage of seamen and ship and federal supervision — was not the product of a romantic vision of life at sea, but came from a grasp of its grim realities: the resources, social status, and bargaining position of the vessel owner set over against the paltry options of the individual seaman. Together with that appreciation of the seaman’s lot went a sense of the importance of a merchant marine and its sailors to the economy of the nation and to its defense. The classic expression of the convergence of all these interests in federal solicitude for the seaman is the opinion of Justice Story, a native of the port of Salem, as he sat on circuit in Maine. Harden v. Gordon, 11 F. Cas. 480 (C.C.D. Me. 1823). The continuing strength of this convergence was confirmed by the Supreme Court’s citation and quotation of Harden in Vaughn v. Atkinson, 369 U.S. 527, 531 (1962).
In time the protection of federal law was extended by statute to foreign seamen whose ships were in American ports. Strathearn S.S. Co. v. Dillon, 252 U.S. 348, 354 (1920). The extension was undoubtedly designed to prevent American seamen, who could sue, from being replaced by those who could not. Id. at 355-56. The statute is of special relevance here where the plaintiffs are foreigners and where counsel for Royal Caribbean acknowledge in their brief that many of its employees are foreigners. Even with the significant change in bargaining power brought about by the National Labor Relations Act of 1937, the seaman’s right to sue directly for his wages was prized by individual seamen and upheld by the Supreme Court. U.S. Bulk Carrier, Inc. v. Arguelles, 401 U.S. 351 (1971). Deciding Arguelles, the Supreme Court noted that the explicit remedy permitting the seamen’s suit was “not clearly taken away” by the National Labor Relations Act. Id. at 357. The Court added: “What Congress has plainly granted we hesitate to deny.” Id. And the Court did not deny it. This precedent speaks powerfully in the case at bar.
Not powerful enough to let the cabin boy from Trinidad and Tobago have his day in court, unfortunately. It's off to the arbitrator for him and his Turkish assistant waiter friend. We hope they've been socking away a big chunk of that $890 a month guarantee, because the arbitrators are not going to be cheap.