Page images
PDF
EPUB

agreement, and the so-called "welfare plan" was established, we found that the main argument used to fasten the "blacklist" scheme on us was that the shipowners or Lake Carriers' Association believed it necessary to have some system whereby the fitness of the man as a seaman could be determined before he was given employment. They have a system up there whereby in their shipping offices (which they call "assembly rooms") they issue certificates to men that are supposed to show their qualifications as seamen, and without which a seaman can not get employment on those ships; and they control a great deal over half of the tonnage on the Lakes a great deal over half the number of vessels and much more than half the tonnage. When I close I should like to have permission to file a copy of that plan. It refers in many cases to certificates of ascertained fitness to be issued to seamen, who are to be given "reasonable preference " in employment, and "reasonable preference" in employment means preference at all times.

I want to say a word now with reference to the passenger boats. They are in much the same condition as the freighters. They have on board from three to six supposedly able seamen. In addition to that they carry in their deck crew from four to thirty deck hands. In most cases these deck hands are merely freight handlers carried from port to port. They never stand any watch outside of port. They spend all or nearly all of their time in port trucking freight, and in all my experience I have never met a single sailor in that kind of a position on a passenger vessel on the Great Lakes. So their effective deck crew consists of from three to six men, and in a great many cases about half of them-say, three out of six, in very many instances are men who know little or nothing about ships. By the way the deck hands stay on board of those ships scarcely long enough to know their way around the vessels.

In many of the trades, like the vessels out of Chicago, I do not believe the average length of time of the continuous employment of any given man as deckhand there will average over three days. Of course when it comes to taking care of the passengers in time of trouble or difficulty, danger, collision, fire, etc., such men are absolutely useless. They are of no help to the vessel, of no help to the passengers, and really have to be taken care of themselves.

The claim has been made by some who are opposed to this kind of legislation, particularly gentlemen coming from the lakes, that in recent years there have not been any very great disasters on the passenger vessels. That is true. We on the Great Lakes have not yet arrived at the state of affairs where we can point to the dead bodies of a thousand women and children in order to prove the recessity for legislation of this kind. But the danger is there; and proof of that danger is plentiful. I want to recite, briefly, a little of it.

I think it was in 1906 that the steamer Atlanta, a passenger vessel, took fire off Sheboygan, Wis., on Lake Michigan. The crew of that vessel, or the four able seamen, were members of our union. Immediately after they were taken ashore they came to Chicago, to our office, and claimed their shipwreck benefit under the rules of our union; so I had an opportunity to meet them right after they came ashore. I asked them to tell me the story of what had occurred. Fortunately, the vessel had no passengers on board at

the time; at any rate, not more than one or two, and they were men. They told me that the alarm had been sounded at 11.30 a. m. Before noon they were compelled to abandon the ship, with the lifeboats on one side burned up. She burned to the water's edge. If there had been five or six hundred or a thousand passengers on the vessel, I leave to your imagination what would have happened. The crew, under the circumstances, had nothing to do except to fight the fire. Had they been really an efficient crew I believe they would have gotten it under control. Had they had any number of passengers aboard, some of them would have had to devote their time to the passengers, and there would have been undoubtedly heavy loss of life.

I think it was in 1907 that the new passenger steamer City of Cleveland took fire. She had never been put into commission and was lying at the shipyard in Detroit. The fire department of the city could be reached and fought the fire, but could not save the vessel. I mention that particular case to show you the grave danger existing all of the time. The City of Cleveland was a modern passenger ship; and yet, in spite of the work of the fire department of Detroit (and it is a good department), she burned to the water's edge.

It was last spring that the steamer Northwest, beyond doubt the finest passenger vessel on the lakes and, looking at her, you would not believe she would burn at all-took fire at her dock in Buffalo and was gutted in less than two hours.

Suppose the City of Cleveland had been out on Lake Erie with a thousand or fifteen hundred passengers on board and a fire of that kind had occurred, with only six efficient men outside of the licensed officers in her deck crew. What do you suppose would have happened? There would have been some loss of life; and I question, under those circumstances, whether they would have been able to save more than very few of them.

In the case of the Northwest, had the fire occurred out in the lake, without an efficient crew on board, you can imagine what would have happened.

I believe this bill ought to be enacted.

Mr. WILSON. Before passing from that subject, let me ask you whether you have had any experience or knowledge as to what has been the effect of undermanning or inefficient manning of freighters on the Great Lakes?

Mr. OLANDER. There have been a number of freighters that have been lost with all hands, going back over the years. In most cases when a freighter is lost we are unable to find out just what caused it, because nobody comes back to tell the story. My experience as a sailor on board of them, however, tells me what it is.

Let me describe the condition on board of a big ore vessel out on Lake Superior during a heavy storm, say, at night. She has got one man at the wheel, who, of course, is not available for any other work. He can not leave the wheel. The licensed officer is on the bridge. He can not leave there. The one man on the lookout is supposed to take care of the deck of the entire vessel. There is 400 feet of open deck, with the seas washing over it. On that deck there are 36 hatches, any one of them liable to break loose at any minute. When one of them does break loose, if some one is not there to take care of it quickly, the vessel begins to fill, and eventually is bound to

founder. That one man has to take care of the whole business, besides looking after things down below in the forepeak and other places in the vessel to see that they do not get adrift. All of those duties have to be performed by that one man, whose station is in the bow of the ship, on the lookout. Of course he is not there during a storm; he is all over the ship.

Underneath every one of those 36 hatches is a peak of iron ore. I do not know whether or not you gentlemen realize just what that means. Iron ore is very heavy. If that peak happens to shift, the top of it falls to one side. There are 36 of those peaks; and when that happens it means that the vessel will list over. That gives the sea a chance to batter in the hatches. If that happens if the cargo shifts there is only one thing to do: The crew must get down into the cargo hold, and, by shoveling the cargo back in its place, straighten out the vessel as much as they can. The one man is supposed to be on the lookout, take care of that 400-foot stretch of deck, those 36 hatches, and all of the other numerous duties. even though the entire crew were called down below they have not got very many men to go down in there; because in most instances a goodly portion of the crew is composed of young boys who have not very much physical strength.

And

I can not give you the list of the vessels that have been lost from time to time, but there are quite a number of them. I dare say the average is at least one vessel lost with all hands every fall. That would be the average, though it does not occur every fall. Sometimes there are two, sometimes three, and sometimes none. the condition with regard to freight vessels.

I hope if I take more than my time I will be told about it.
Mr. FURUSETH. You have taken more now.

That is

Mr. OLANDER. I am told that I have exceeded my time, and I want to give the others an opportunity to be heard; so, with the permission of the committee, Mr. Chairman, I should like to file here a copy of the Lake Carriers' Association welfare plan and the report of a committee of the Chicago Federation of Labor which, during the past summer, conducted an investigation of the conditions existing on passenger boats sailing out of that port. It is a very interesting and valuable report. I should like to have permission to file these two documents.

The CHAIRMAN. Is there any objection? If not, they made be made part of the record.

Mr. OLANDER. I thank the committee very much for the opportunity afforded me.

(The papers above referred to will be found at the end of Mr. Olander's statement.)

Mr. AYERS. Mr. Olander, you said a while ago that a considerable proportion of the crews of some of these boats can not understand orders given in the English language. Of what nationality are the sailors on the Great Lakes that can not understand the English language?

Mr. OLANDER. They are not sailors. They are usually Hungarians and Poles taken out of the steel mills and placed aboard of the ships. They are steel-mill laborers. We have not had any sailors up there who are unable to understand the English language except these. They are Armenians and Turks, and people of nationalities

of all kinds that usually work in the steel mills. Of course they take the place of the sailors.

(The documents submitted by Mr. Olander are as follows:)

DANGEROUS PASSENGER BOATS ON LAKE MICHIGAN.

[Chicago Federation of Labor. Report of grievance committee on passenger boats. Chicago, October 1, 1911. This investigation was caused by the absolute disregard for life by the dangerous handling of passenger boats with incompetent and insufficient crews.]

PASSENGER STEAMERS UNDERMANNED.

In the interest of public safety the Chicago Federation of Labor recently undertook an investigation of the passenger steamers sailing out of the port of Chicago. The committee selected to conduct the investigation has completed its work and has submitted the following complete and interesting report:

System of manning.-We have examined into the conditions existing on 24 passenger steamers sailing out of Chicago, including boats in each of the various passenger steamship companies. The crews on these steamers are made up as follows:

1. One master or captain and two licensed mates.

2. Three to six experienced seamen called quartermasters or wheelsmen, watchmen (not "cabin watchmen "), and lookoutsmen.

3. Usually from 2 to 8" scrubbers." These men or boys are not sailors, are not required to have any experience. The only qualification needed to secure employment in these positions is a willingness to handle a scrub brush.

4. Four to thirty deckhands. No experience of any kind is needed to obtain employment in these positions. In most cases the deck hands are merely freight handlers. Note further explanation regarding these men.

5. Engine department crew, consisting usually of 2 licensed engineers, 2 oilers, and from 2 to 4 firemen.

6. Steward's department, consisting of from 6 to 125 persons, none of whom are sailors. This department consists of cooks and helpers, pantry boys, waiters, porters, bellboys, cabin watchmen, chambermaids, bartenders, news and cigar stand attendants, etc.

It

We find that the average crew of experienced seamen on each steamer, exclusive of the captain and 2 mates, is 5. These 5 seamen are the 2 quartermasters or wheelsmen, 2 watchmen on most of the steamers (18 steamers out of the 24 have 2 watchmen. 4 steamers have 1 such man, and 2 have none. must be remembered that the watchmen here referred to are not the "cabin watchmen," these latter not being sailors), and 1 or 2 lookoutsmen (11 steamers out of the 24 have 2 lookouts, 12 steamers have 1, while 1 steamer uses deck hands for this purpose).

Only 1 man on deck.-On a passenger steamer employing 2 quartermasters, 2 watchmen, and 2 lookoutsmen, a total of 6 experienced seamen, the watch on deck consists of 1 man of each grade, a total of 3 such experienced seamen. One of these, the quartermaster, is at the wheel in the pilot house or on the steamer's bridge steering the ship, and is not available for any other emergency work. The watchman is stationed on the freight deck and would only know of anything dangerous on the passenger decks through hearing the official signal or alarm. The lookoutsman is usually stationed at the extreme forward end of the steamer, and he is the only available man to whom the officer in charge of the vessel could personally communicate a sudden direct order to perform emergency service on deck. In cases where only 1 lookoutsman is employed, who then stands watch only at night, the officer in charge must, during the day, wait until the watchman comes to him from the freight deck in response to a signal. The law itself permits this condition of affairs.

It will be noticed from the above that not one of the 24 passenger steamers ever has on watch at one time sufficient experienced seamen to launch and man even one lifeboat. No experienced seamen could be found on the passenger decks, except at times a lookoutsman stationed in the bow of the ship.

Such few experienced sailors as are employed on board these steamers are each placed in charge of a lifeboat, with cooks, waiters, bellboys, deck hands, or freight handlers as crews, and there are not even enough able seamen on board these steamers to place even one such man in each lifeboat.

For instance: Lifeboat No. 1 on a certain steamer, with the first mate in charge, has for its crew 2 cabin boys and 2 deck hands, the cabin boys"

66

21242-11- -2

mentioned being bellboys. Lifeboat No. 4 of the same steamer has a lookoutsman in charge, with a crew of 2 deck hands, a porter, and a waiter. Lifeboat No. 6 on the same vessel is in charge of the steward, with a crew consisting of a cook, a porter, a pantryman, and a waiter.

Boat drill useless.-In the judgment of your committee, after conference with a number of persons familiar with such matters, compliance with the law in the matter of boat and fire drill on these steamers means little. The so-called "fire drill" and boat drill" is held once each week. The fire drill consists of pulling down the hose and opening a valve. The calling of the fire drill serves as a notice for boat drill. Boat drill consists of lifting from one to three lifeboats and swinging them out. It is not required that lifeboats be launched into the water with crews in place during boat drill-and without this being done the drill is very nearly useless. The men are given no practice whatever in handling lifeboats in the water. We found a few men who had heard of cases where one or two of the boats have actually been manned and lowered. into the water during boat drill, but such cases are clearly the exception, and usually take place when the Government inspectors are present. Certain it is that the crews are not given sufficient practical training in the handling of lifesaving apparatus.

Incompetent men.--We found no deck hands who even claimed to be sailors. In most of the passenger steamers these men are simply freight handlers, who are carried from port to port by the steamer to load and unload cargo. They do not stand any watch while the vessel is out of port, that being the time they sleep. They are of the type commonly called " tramps," seldom work more than a few days on a vessel at one time. Their working hours are long, wages low, accommodations and food bad. Their meals, such as they are, are served to them on the freight deck in tin pars. These men can not and do not remain on a vessel long enough to become familiar with the routine of the ships. Most of them may be described as "down and outs" from various trades and callings.

This committee certainly does not deem such men fit to safeguard the lives of passengers; on the contrary, they appear to be a menace to both ships and passengers. They are of the same type as described in the report of the United States commission of investigation upon disaster of the steamer General Slocum. The Slocum tragedy occurred at New York June 15, 1904, and resulted in a loss of 955 out of 1,358 passengers. Describing the deck crew of that steamer, the commission said:

"The deck hands are apparently picked up with very little consideration as to the knowledge of their duties, have very little discipline, change from year to year (only one of the Slocum's deck hands having been on the vessel before this year), and are unfitted to meet any such emergency as was presented by the disaster to the General Slocum, or to properly take care of such peculiarly dangerous traffic as that on excursion boats.

66

The inefficiency and poor quality of the deck crew of this vessel, doubtless typical of the majority of the crews on excursion steamers, is one of the essential facts that caused the loss of so many lives. (Report of the United States commission of investigation upon the disaster of the steamer General Slocum, p. 24.)"

We have examined into the law governing the operation of passenger vessels and find that in the matter of equipment and machinery there are rules governing almost every detail of inspection, construction, size, and capacity, but, except in the case of licensed officers, not one word requiring the employment of competent men to handle such equipment appears anywhere in the law. Proper life-saving appliances are absolutely necessary, but, we submit, such equipment is practically useless unless there is also on board each vessel a sufficient number of experienced seamen trained to properly handle such equipment in emergencies.

The remedy.-In conference held at the offices of the Government steamboat inspectors, the subject matter relating to all those who patronize the passenger and excursion boats out of this port was discussed. They stated that the evils complained of must be remedied through national legislation, and they were powerless to change existing conditions.

To remedy the present conditions, we find that there has been introduced in Congress by the Hon. Wm. B. Wilson, of Pennsylvania, at the request of the International Seamen's Union, and approved by the American Federation of Labor legislative committee, a bill, H. R. 11372, which provides that on any steam vessel 75 per cent of the deck crew must have at least three years' expe

« PreviousContinue »