The pilots who steer the cargo ships up Chesapeake Bay and are seeking a pay raise say they have done their part to help the Port of Baltimore by forgoing a raise for six years.
But the companies that pay the pilots say the pilots haven't done enough.
Last night before a Public Service Commission hearing examiner, representatives from the Steamship Trade Association, the Maryland Maritime Association and a number of shipping lines and agents testified that the pay increase being sought by the pilots is too much, given the current economic conditions.
"In the real world, if you continue to lose business, you must make cuts accordingly," said Roy A. Schleicher, president of the Maryland Maritime Association, an organization representing 33 steamship agencies and carriers.
Capt. Michael R. Watson, president of the Association of Maryland Pilots, argued that the $100,000 annual salary the pilots receive is less than pilots make at competing ports. Pilots earn anywhere from $105,000 a year in New York to $359,000 a year in Port Everglades, Fla. In Virginia, pilots recently received a raise that will increase their pay to $192,500.
"We have been a good player in the port," Watson said. "We have done our part."
The pilots' association has reached an agreement with the staff of the Public Service Commission for an 18 percent raise over three years, dispensed in yearly increments of 8 percent, 8 percent and 2 percent.
The increases are far less than the 33 percent rate increase the pilots sought, but more than the 14.56 percent raise the staff originally recommended.
"This is a compromise," said hearing officer Joel Bright.
After listening to testimony yesterday, Bright said he will act quickly to make a recommendation to the full commission. The pilots have asked that the rates take effect Oct. 1.
The Public Service Commission staff would not go along with the original rate request because it said the number of pilots should be cut in line with the amount of business the port has lost. From 1985 to 1990, the number of pilots dropped 8 percent, from 86 to 79, but the number of ships calling at the port during that period declined 20 percent, the PSC staff said.
As an association, the pilots share equally in the profits of their organization. The PSC had suggested that, if the pilots wanted to increase their salaries, they should reduce their numbers.
But Watson said the association does not have the authority to make its members retire. Staffing level is set by a state licensing board and he said the board will take up the issue in the future.