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When, Why and Where Pilot Rate Hikes Make Sense

Posted to Global Maritime Analysis with Joseph Keefe (by on January 5, 2011

Long awaited measure needs only MA Governor Deval Patrick’s signature to become law. Local pilots endured political games and roadblocks on the way to their first rate increase in more than a decade.

In most places where compulsory pilotage for deep draft vessels is the rule, the news that pilot rates will be going up is met with staunch opposition and a laundry list of reasons why that’s a bad idea. Typically, that’s also accompanied by a cacophony of derision from local stakeholders who lampoon the (allegedly) bloated salaries being paid to pilots in many if not all of North America’s major harbors. Not so in Boston. As time runs out on the current legislative session in Massachusetts, however, only the signature of Governor Deval Patrick (D) is needed to bring them (finally) within shouting distance of parity with their colleagues elsewhere. It is way past time.
Pilots here in the Commonwealth have long toiled at compensation scales far lower than their colleagues elsewhere, maintaining one of the best safety records in the business, while also hiring to a strict professional standard. Despite these realities, a small but determined group of lawmakers has – until now – been able to stall and kill any effort to bring relief to local pilots who have seen the costs of operating the operation skyrocket since the last time they saw a raise. That ended on Monday when the long awaited Pilot Rate Board Bill (S2174) was enacted in both houses and subsequently laid before Governor Patrick for his signature.

It has been a decade since the last rate increase has become law, and the measure includes provisions for a Pilot Rate Board will ensure that Massachusetts ports are safe and properly funded in the future. The bill also allows the local pilot commission to consider prior military service of potential pilot candidates. The rate board will meet annually to review rates and other issues related to pilotage.

If signed by the governor, the measure (An Act Establishing a Pilotage Rate board – (S2174) will enact a one-time increase of approximately 11-1/4 percent for Boston pilots, who work under some of the industry’s most difficult weather and operating conditions. Arguably, the injustice done to this group of professionals ranks only as a close second to the hoax perpetrated on Long Island Sound pilots, who waited some 25 years before a stingy and dysfunctional state of Connecticut DOT would agree to a series of nominal rate increases. The damage to the local pilot situation there is only now being repaired, albeit slowly, with the ultimate outcome still in doubt.
On Monday, it was not immediately known as to how Governor Deval would react to the deal. Nevertheless, observers close to the fray could see no obvious reasons for opposition, especially since virtually every stakeholder in the port has endorsed the pact. Deval, due to be sworn in again on Thursday after being re-elected in November, has ten days to sign the bill or it dies on his desk. Long mired in “committee” while disputes surrounding certification of docking masters, pilot selection procedures and other “riders” were attached, one rate bill after another died as each session of the legislature expired. Until now.
According to the Boston Pilots, their business volume has largely remained steady during the recent recession despite common reports of drops of as much as 20 percent of traffic elsewhere. And, a new flourishing business of used car export sales has further boosted the stature of the number one niche port in New England. It makes sense to adequately compensate those tasked with maintaining safety for the Commonwealth’s most obvious and perhaps its most important economic engine. That was true ten years ago and it remains that way today.
At a time when it is vogue to push back against any sort of rate increase – especially on the waterfront – there isn’t a pilot group in the country who has waited longer or deserves an adjustment more. In the end, it costs the taxpayer nothing and only ensures that a high rate of safety can be maintained in the harbor. Boston Harbor Pilots have never been amongst the highest paid in their industry and this rate hike legislation won’t change that metric. On the other hand, signing the bill as his first act upon assuming his second term in office might just be the smartest thing Patrick has ever done. A decade late and perhaps a few dollars short, the bill will nevertheless pay handsome dividends in terms of public safety, down the road. But, not unless the Governor signs it. – MR.

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Joseph Keefe is the lead commentator of MaritimeProfessional.com. Additionally, he is Managing Editor of the new Maritime Professional print magazine. You can also read his work in MarineNews and Maritime Reporter magazines. He can be reached at [email protected] or at [email protected] MaritimeProfessional.com is the largest business networking site devoted to the marine industry. Each day thousands of industry professionals around the world log on to network, connect, and communicate.

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