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Pilots Agree Continues Strike

Leonard Gray / L’Observateur / May 25, 1998

RESERVE – The Pilots Agree strike continues along the lower Mississippi River, Dickey Mathes said, and he’s upset at claims the organization is not a legitimate labor union.

“We’re members of the International Association of Master Mates and Pilots,” he insisted after the regional director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, Independence, Ohio, refused to get involved in the dispute.

Karl Schwartz, director of communications for the International Association of Master Mates and Pilots, headquartered near Baltimore, Md.,affirmed Pilots Agree has been “a valid labor organization” within that union since February. However, it still isn’t recognized by any of thecompanies it is striking because it represents so few of the companies’ pilots.

Schwartz added Pilots Agree sent letters to the various companies, accompanied by letters of recognition agreements, instructing them if they sign the letters, the strike would end at their facilities.

So far, as of Monday, no companies have signed the agreements.

Pilots Agree, according to Schwartz, has approximately 1,000 members with 700 still on strike. That is one-third of the estimated 3,000 eligibleriver pilots active and “a substantial percentage” of the river pilots.

Hundreds of barge fleet pilots walked off the job April 3 and, according to Mathes, 700 are still off the job. Meanwhile, all along the MississippiRiver, sheriff’s deputies are parked on the levee at almost every barge facility.

On May 12, Mathes said he received a fax message from Tom O’Brien of the FMCS which stated O’Brien tried to phone Mathes several times unsuccessfully. It said, in part, “I am sending this fax on behalf ofDirector Richard Barnes of Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.

Director Richard Barnes requested that I, Regional Director Tom O’Brien, reach out to you to see if we could assist you in any way.”Mathes responded and made contact, giving him the names of some of the top barge shippers opposing the strike and then also told the Pilots Agree membership the FCMS was getting involved to settle the dispute.

Instead, O’Brien called Mathes again on May 12 and told him the FMCS could not get involved, as Pilots Agree was not a legitimate labor union. Headded Pilots Agree is not recognized by any of the companies Mathes named as such, including American River Transportation Company, Ingram Barge Line, Kirby Marine and American Commercial Barge Lines.

Mathes said that’s part of the problem, as the companies will not discuss the dispute, choosing instead to ignore the strikers.

“He had pressure put on him,” Mathes alleged of O’Brien. “Most peopledon’t realize these towing companies are so powerful.”He continued, “We’re a full-fledged union,” and said he was embarrassed when O’Brien pulled out of the matter.

On the other hand, O’Brien said Monday the matter is quite simple – Pilots Agree should prove it represents at least 50 percent of the barge pilots to legitimately say it speaks for the pilots.

“They’re not at that stage yet,” O’Brien commented. “If you had onecompany which had 50 pilots but only one was a member of Pilots Agree, would that be fair?”

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