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Crane operators lose their seamen status under court ruling

On Behalf of | Mar 14, 2022 | Jones Act

Workers who spend the majority of their time operating cranes are no longer considered seamen, under a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit. This applies to New York workers who operate the cranes that are attached to ships, used for loading up equipment for oil rigs while they’re offshore. The ruling is the revival of a collective action that was made against an operator of liftboats.

En banc review was denied by the court in favor of panel decision being reinstated. The panel’s decision stated that any worker whose main job was to operate cranes could not be exempted from overtime pay – unlike those who are classified as seamen under the Jones Act.

Not all judges agreed on this matter, however, and those who oppose the decision warn of uncertain times ahead for those businesses operating at sea. Only time will tell whether or not this clears the air or muddies the water for this unique class of workers at sea.

Determining whether or not it is maritime work

The vote of 15-2 from the full panel denying en banc review of the case, also reinstated the unanimous ruling from a panel of three judges in February 2022. This decision asserted that crane operators shouldn’t be classified as seamen under the Jones Act because their industrial work is not involved with operating or navigating a liftboat.

Since these workers are not carrying out maritime duties, they rightfully deserve overtime pay under the Fair Labor Standards Act. Something that’s given legal experts pause in this situation is the fact that the 5th Circuit already has a poor track record of applying these exemptions, having misapplied an FLSA exemption within a month prior to this case.