Most unions representing seaman, longshoremen and civilian mariners take great care of their members. They work hard to ensure that fair wages are upheld, that working conditions meet state and federal safety standards, and most importantly, that legitimate grievances are properly and promptly addressed.
Nevertheless, there may be situations where outside legal counsel is not only helpful but beneficial. Here are three of them:
1.You need help understanding your union contract.
When you joined the union, you likely signed a contract that spelled out the rights and obligations of both the union and your participation as a member. Contract language is notoriously dense and often difficult to understand. An attorney can help you wade through the legalese, especially in cases where you may be thinking about filing a union grievance and want to know what your rights are. They are often spelled out in your contract.
2. Your employer wrongfully retaliated against you.
You have the right to work in safe, secure environment. If you are let go or otherwise punished after reporting sexual harassment, discrimination or illegal activities on the part of a coworker, maritime officer or the company itself, retaining outside legal help is essential to protecting your rights.
Naturally, you'll also want to work with the union to start a grievance claim; in some cases, your union contract may require that you do so before taking private action. Either way, it's a good idea to marshal all of your resources for pursuing justice not only for yourself, but also for any others who still work in that hostile environment.
Of course, there's also the possibility that the union may drag its feet or not take your claim seriously. In that case, outside counsel is even more important than ever, and it helps to work with a firm that has experience working with seafaring and maritime unions and union members.
3. You need help filing a Jones Act or LHWC Act claim.
If you are injured in a maritime-related accident in the course of your job, whether on the sea or not, you have the right to file for compensation under the Jones Act or the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act (LHWCA). Which act depends on the nature of your work, the Jones Act covering accidents at sea and the LHWCA covering accidents in shipyards, shipping terminals, piers and harbors.
Again, many unions have resources available to help injured maritime workers, but they may not be enough to address your particular issues. Retaining outside counsel ensures that there is always someone in your corner taking steps to protect your individual rights.