Lawsuit Filed To Block Raises For Mississippi River Pilots

BATON ROUGE (AP) — Louisiana's chemical industry has filed suit to block raises for two groups of Mississippi River ship pilots.

         The Advocate’s Ted Griggs reports the raise would boost their average annual pay more than $50,000 over four years, to $473,000 in 2019.

         Pay agreements approved by the Louisiana Pilotage Fee Commission include pay hikes of more than $30,000 in 2016, followed by 1.5 percent annual raises from 2017 to 2019. The agreements increase the number of ship pilots in the two groups on the lower Mississippi River by seven, to a total of 171. The agreements also add funding for what the Louisiana Chemical Association says are "phantom pilots," or positions that shippers must pay for even though there's no guarantee the positions will be filled.

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         The chemical association's stance puts it at odds with the Louisiana Maritime Association. That industry group negotiated the agreements with the two pilot groups in an effort to end cost-of-living increases, equalize base pay, create predictability and require reports on pilots and their work time, according to transcripts from a Fee Commission meeting.

         State law allows the pilots, who help steer ocean-going vessels, to operate as a monopoly on their section of the river. Customers, such as chemical plants, refineries and shipping companies, pay the pilots' fees.

         The Legislature created the Pilotage Fee Commission to establish rates and fees. The governor appoints the commission's 11 members: four representatives each from the shipping industry and pilot groups and three independent members.

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         In the latest dispute, the chemical association alleges the commission violated "a multitude" of state laws when it approved the latest fees for the Crescent River Port Pilots Association and the Associated Branch Pilots of New Orleans. The Crescent Pilots navigate ships on the 100-plus miles of river from New Orleans to Pilottown. The Branch Pilots, or Bar Pilots, cover the stretch from Pilottown to the mouth of the river.

         The chemical association argues the Fee Commission approved the pay packages on July 30 without a public hearing, which the association requested, and without demonstrating that handling the issue that way was in the public's best interest.

         The chemical association has asked a state district judge in Baton Rouge to stop the commission from allowing the raises.

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         The Louisiana Chemical Association represents 63 chemical companies with more than 100 plants in the state, the vast majority of them along the Mississippi River.

         The Louisiana Maritime Association's membership represents 90 percent of the companies that pay the pilots' fees. Those include shipping companies, freight forwarders, agents and ports, including the Port of New Orleans and the Port of Greater Baton Rouge.

         Michael Maloz, chairman of the Louisiana Maritime Commission, and Paul West, an attorney representing the Pilotage Fee Commission, both said they could not comment on pending litigation.

         For more information




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