Union Busters Managing Key Aspect of DNC Convention
|YOU MIGHT WANT TO investigate the fact that Ambassadors International is managing the DNC hotels for the 2008 Convention in Denver. Ambassadors is the same company that busted up the Seafarers union from the seven ships they bought. Here is a NY Times article on Ambassadors' union busting:
October 25, 2007
A Riverboat Could Be Cruising to the End of the Line
By SEAN D. HAMILL
ON THE CUMBERLAND RIVER, Tenn. — Looking out over the Delta Queen’s wooden paddle wheel kicking up frothy trails of white water, Don Mauger could scarcely contain his disappointment.
When Mr. Mauger and his wife, Dixie, reserved their spots for this seven-day trip on the country’s last original paddle-wheeled, steam-driven, overnight passenger boat, they received a depressing letter with their tickets.
It said that 2008 would be the last year for the Delta Queen, an 81-year-old riverboat. The owner, Majestic American Line, said it could not get Congress to grant an exemption from the 1966 Safety at Sea Act, which prohibits wooden boats from carrying more than 50 overnight passengers. (The Delta Queen, which has a steel hull but a wooden superstructure, carries up to 174.)
“I just don’t get it,” said Mr. Mauger, 70, a retired firefighter from Pueblo, Colo., who was on his 11th trip on the Delta Queen. “I mean, it’s easy to get cynical in this world; there’s a lot that’s going wrong. But this is something good. Why would they want to end it?”
Depending on whom you ask, the reason Congress has opposed granting the Queen its 10th exemption since the federal law was approved is either a legitimate fear of fire on a wooden vessel, or special-interest politics.
“It’s a revered and historic structure — but it’s wood,” said Representative James L. Oberstar, a Minnesota Democrat who refused Majestic’s request for an exemption in his position as chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. “I see no compelling case that can be made to move an exemption.”
But Majestic’s owner, Ambassadors International, says the real issue is opposition from the Seafarers International Union, which represented most of the steamboat’s employees until last year. At that time, Majestic bought the Delta Queen and two other riverboats for $40 million and forced the union off the boats.
Joseph McCarthy, general counsel for Ambassadors International, said the company had offered to let the union back on the Delta Queen in return for the union’s support for the exemption, but the union would not budge unless it was welcomed back onto all seven of Majestic’s boats.
Mr. McCarthy also said the union told the company that it “could help change” Mr. Oberstar’s position, as well as opposition from Senator Daniel K. Inouye, Democrat of Hawaii and chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee.
Representatives of the union and of Mr. Inouye declined to comment.
But Mr. Oberstar, who supported the exemption in a committee vote last year when Republicans controlled Congress, asserted that safety was his only concern.
“To say that I would negotiate a deal to put peoples’ lives at risk in return for a contract for a union is not only unethical, it’s immoral,” he said. “Never in my 33 years has anyone ever approached me with such a proposal.”
Representative Steve Chabot, a Republican from Cincinnati, the Delta Queen’s home port for 37 years until 1985, is not giving up. He is pushing a stand-alone bill granting a 10-year exemption.
“The Delta Queen is a national historic treasure, and I think it would be a real tragedy if it is shut down,” Mr. Chabot said. “There’s never been a fire injury, and it isn’t less safe now than it was over the last 40 years.”
But without committee support, the discharge petition he introduced last week would need 218 co-sponsors, a majority of the House, just to get it to a vote.
Mr. McCarthy said that if an exemption is not granted, the Delta Queen’s future is uncertain, though it could be used for day cruises or become a floating hotel.
The Delta Queen was built in 1926 to transport passengers and cargo on California rivers. During World War II, the boat was called into military duty to transport troops on the West Coast.
After the boat was decommissioned in 1947, Greene Line Steamers of Cincinnati bought it for $46,000, and shipped it on a barge through the Panama Canal for use on the Mississippi River system.
Over the next 60 years the boat would change hands six times. What has not changed is the Delta Queen’s charms.
The original owners wanted the boat to be as lavish as possible, to lure travelers from luxury railroad cars and the burgeoning 1920s car culture. They spent $850,000 — making it one of the most expensive steamboats ever built.
In addition to stained-glass windows and a graceful chandelier over the grand staircase, the boat was festooned with elegant teakwood handrails that encircle the decks, red mahogany that graces the walls in common areas, and rare Siamese ironwood floors.
In 1960 a 32-whistle, steam-driven calliope whose happy, chirping notes continue to signal that the Delta Queen is leaving town was added. The 1950s brought a bell that came from a steamboat Mark Twain rode on in the 1880s when he was researching his book “Life on the Mississippi.”
Life on the Delta Queen is much as it was in the 1920s. It is relaxed, following the 8-to-10 mile-an-hour pace of the cruise, and there is no television, no Internet, no piped-in music.
The nightly entertainment includes banjo music and show tunes, catering to a crowd dominated by retirees, many return passengers despite prices that run from $1,500 to $6,200 per person, depending on the room and the length of the trip.
But can their loyalty save the Delta Queen? There is historical precedent.
Under similar circumstances in 1970, the Delta Queen’s former owners, Overseas National Airways, were told by a new Democratic committee chairman that the boat would not get another exemption because of fire safety concerns.
The company declared 1970 the Queen’s last season; New Orleans jazz musicians even had a funeral parade for the boat when it pulled into port.
But a grass-roots effort backed by hundreds of thousands of letters to Congress, and the support of the singer Johnny Cash, helped win the Delta Queen a reprieve — an effort fans hope to repeat.
“From the first time I put my foot on her, I felt a tie,” said Franz Neumeier, 39, a steamboat enthusiast from Munich, who created a Web site, www.save-the-delta-queen.org to gather petitions and push for a new exemption. “I think it would be an extreme shame to ground her for what I would call ridiculous reasons. She is living history.”
John Lewis agrees. He is the mayor of Bridgeport, Ala., one of the small towns the Delta Queen passes on its regular voyages along the Tennessee River. He is leading the effort to get cities along the steamboat’s routes to pass resolutions encouraging Congress to grant another exemption.
“Doing away with the Delta Queen,” Mr. Lewis said, “would be like cutting down the last redwood and making paneling for someone’s office, or melting down the Statue of Liberty to make pennies from her copper.”
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