« PreviousContinue »
This declaration is not worth the paper it is printed on as a means of preventing fraud upon the seaman, unless accompanied by an adequate penalty. The penalty prescribed by the act of 1884 for the false claim of relationship is a fine of not exceeding $500, or imprisonment not exceeding six months, at the discretion of the court. The same penalty should be prescribed for an attempted fraud under this form of allotment note, and should Congress be unwilling to make the changes in the law relating to allotments which are recommended on later pages it is trusted that this omission, at all events, will be supplied. The Department's power of regulation is almost nullified by its absence.
Evidently all that is required to perpetrate fraud under the allotment law of 1886 is the signature on the back of the allotment note of the man who is to profit by the fraud and the signature of the seaman on its face. These allotments are almost invariably made out in favor of boarding-house keepers. The number of allotment notes issued last year to original creditors was 15,503 and to relatives 732. While it is quite well recognized that there are exceptions to every rule, the rule will not be gainsaid that the boarding-house keeper desires to make as much out of the sailor as possible. Even granting that all his charges are just-and such frequently is not the case-his object will be to keep the sailor in his house up to the extreme limit of his power to pay. His object then will be to get rid of him on any terms he can obtain for the seaman which will secure the money legitimately or illegitimately due to him from the seaman. The signature of the boarding house keeper will be attached to the allotment note in most cases up to any amount which he believes will fall within the money limit fixed by law.
If the seaman were in fact fully capable of entering into a contract his adequate protection would rest with himself. He need not sign an allotment note which he well knew did not stand for the "liquidation of a just debt for board or clothing which he had contracted prior to engagement." But the whole theory of maritime law, not only of the United States but of all other maritime powers, is that the seaman is the nation's ward, incapable, without the advice and protection of Government, of entering into contracts. The theory doubtless corresponds to an historical and present fact. It was directly stated in the familar decision of Mr. Justice Story, of the Supreme Court, concerning seamen: Although not technically incapable of entering into a valid contract, they are treated in the same manner as courts of equity are accustomed to treat young heirs. The most rigid scrutiny is instituted into the terms of every contract in which they engage. If there is any undue inequality in the terms, any disproportion in the bargain, any sacrifice of rights on one side which is not compensated by extraordinary benefits on the other, the judicial interpretation of the transaction is that the bargain is unjust and unreasonable and advantage has been taken of the situation of the weaker party, and that pro tanto the bargain ought to be set aside.
While the assertion does not admit of direct proof, and possibly should be barred from an official report, I am personally convinced that a very great number of allotment notes under the amendment of 1886 are not valid claims against seamen, but are indirect means of extorting from them the advances given before 1884. All the inducements to the perpetration of old abuses under the advance-wages system still exist, and all that those who desire the revival of those abuses now need accomplish to make personal gain is to secure the signature of the "weaker party" to the allotment note. While seeming to give the Secretary of the Treasury power of regulation, the law actually permits the seaman to sign away, before they are earned, his wages up to the amount of $10 a month. Reference to the rates of wages paid to seamen in this NAV 95, PT 1—3
country last year, printed in Appendix B, will show that in many instances this involved a sacrifice of more than half the wages actually earned and of not less than one-third of the highest rate of wages paid to able seamen. Confronted by this fact we have little right to assert that the wages paid to American seamen are much higher than those paid to seamen of other nations, and that for this reason the United States are unable to compete with other nations on the sea.
Of the allotment note to the "original creditor" it may as truly be said as of the British advance note that it "is one great cause of the deterioration of our seamen; without it the crimp's occupation would be gone; there would be no inducement for him to get worthless scamps to sign articles. He now ships these men for the advance note alone, and the man gets little or no benefit from it."
The certain and indisputable effect of the form of the allotment note permitted under the amendment of 1886 is to take away from the seaman a large share of his wages before they are earned and put him heavily into debt at the outset of his voyage. This is true whether the allotment is for an honest board bill during his sojourn on shore or for an entirely dishonest board bill. It will be conceded by all that it is better for the sailor to be at sea than on shore, to be employed than idle, and that it is better for the merchant service that the sailor's sojourn on shore should be as brief as possible. The only exception to this rule is the exception, not frequent nowadays, of the sober, thrifty seaman with a wife and family. The present law encourages the seaman to remain on shore long after his means of supporting himself and the time for him to begin work have gone. By statute law the boarding house keeper, with the absolute certainty of payment, is advised to keep the sailor on shore for a period which can be computed with some accuracy, according to the trade of any particular port, and the sailor is encouraged to get into debt to that extent instead of going to sea. When the limit of the absolute certainty of payment for board has passed, or as much sooner as there is deemed a probability that the same payment for an illegitimate board bill can be secured, the boarding-house keeper's natural aim is to get an allotment note and put the seaman on a ship.
The seaman is thus in debt to the ship at the outset of the voyage. One strong inducement to good conduct, the earning of full wages, is removed, and for it is substituted an inducement to desertion, his debt to the ship. The conditions of his shipment tend to create an almost continuous state of debt, which carries with it dependence, if not mendicancy, at home and abroad, dissatisfaction and resultant disregard of discipline, to which, it is believed, may justly be charged, in part at least, the disappearance of the American seaman. These evils are perpetuated solely for the purpose of giving the guaranty of the Government to the sailor's boarding house keeper that his board bills, even if excessive or prolonged to cover an unnecessary period, shall surely be paid. Every other guest of every other kind of hotel expects to leave or to be told to leave when his ability to pay ceases.
The Bureau submits a bill which it is believed will be a considerable improvement upon the present law. That it will meet with the determined opposition of all those who profit by the abuses which it is hoped in part to correct is well assured. The bill is bill G of "Proposed legislation."
The first section of the bill repeats the first part of the law enacted in 1884, now in force, prohibiting all advance wages. It also renders section 4609 of the Revised Statutes applicable to the coasting as well as to the foreign trade. Section 4609 provides that if any person shall
demand or receive pay for providing a seaman with employment he shall be liable to a fine of not over $100. In both the acts of 1884 and 1886 this section was not included, and its applicability to the coasting trade is open to doubt. Yet it is the most necessary provision of the statutes for the protection of the seaman from the crimp. The acts of 1884 and 1886 fixed a heavy penalty on any person paying another person for securing employment for a seaman. It omitted to fix a penalty upon the person who demands or receives payment. It punished the master, owner, or seaman for employing the crimp, while it failed to provide a penalty for the person against whom the law was presumably aimed. Section 4609 appears general in its terms, and it was doubtless assumed that it was already applicable to the coasting as well as to the foreign trade. Its application to the coasting trade is uncertain. It is useless to attempt to apply in the coasting trade the laws for the protection of seamen unless section 4609 is part of those laws.
The second section enables any seaman to allot any part of his wages to his wife, mother, or other relative. This much was also a part of the act of 1884. It is also provided that a seaman may allot any part of his wages to a savings bank. It may frankly be confessed that a sentimental hope, rather than an assured belief, that the words will be of much practical value has prompted this addition. Great Britain in 1856 established Seamen's Savings Banks, the annual deposits of which have steadily increased up to 1893, when the amount deposited reached $400,000, and since 1867 has established seamen's money orders, by which the wages transmitted in 78,000 orders last year amounted to about $2,200,000. When we allow our seamen to sign away to boarding-house keepers half of their wages before they are earned, we are evidently in no condition to enter upon two such considerable undertakings as those successfully prosecuted by our great rival. The endeavor to make a modest beginning can certainly do no injury, and it has within it possibilities of good, remote though they seem. The second section of the bill is necessary legislation, because Congress, by the act of August 18, 1894, abolished all allotments in the coasting trade when shipments are made before a commissioner. It was probably through a natural inadvertence that no exception was made of allotments to a wife, mother, or other relative, as these allotments are seldom made, and the aim of the act was to check abuses growing out of allotments to boarding-house keepers.
By the third section, in trade between the Atlantic and Pacific ports of the United States and in the foreign trade except to the near-by countries of Canada, Newfoundland, Mexico, and the West Indies, the maximum allotment to an original creditor is fixed at one month's wages, which is the maximum limit under the British law. The law of the United States now permits an allotment not to exceed $10 per month for each month of the voyage, in the discretion of the seaman. Practically the maximum is always allotted.
The following table shows the allotments now authorized and usually given:
Schedule of voyages for sailing vessels.
[For steam vessels on foreign voyages the allotment may be one-half of the amount allowed sailing
$5 Coasting voyages, except between the Atlantic and Pacific ports, including voyages from first coasting district to Atlantic ports in the Dominion of Canada.
Voyages between ports in second and third coasting districts to Atlantic ports in the Dominion of Canada.
Between ports on Pacific and Atlantic coasts.
Between Pacific ports and British Columbia.
12 Between ports in first and third coasting districts and ports in Europe. Between ports in first and third coasting districts and ports on the Mediterranean east of Sicily, and Black Sea.
Between ports in second coasting district and ports in Europe.
Between ports on Pacific coast and ports in Sandwich Islands.
Between ports on Atlantic or Gulf coasts and West Indies and Central America.
Between ports on Atlantic or Gulf coasts and China and Japan and Philippine
Between ports on Atlantic or Gulf coasts and Australia and New Zealand.
Between ports on Atlantic or Gulf coasts and ports on west coast of South
Between ports in first and third coasting districts and Mexico.
The bill proposed retains allotments in a modified form for long foreign voyages as a concession of belief to the practical attainment of an improved order of things. For the same reason the third section is somewhat elastic. The act of 1884 attempted to accomplish a sweeping reform at one stroke, and thus aroused genuine and reasonable as well as selfish and unreasonable opposition under which it soon broke down. The present law offers an inducement for the deep-sea sailor to stay ashore in idleness until he has run into debt to the amount of thirty or forty dollars, while under the proposed section the debt payable out of wages yet to be earned will not exceed $20. Whatever be the length of the voyage, all his wages after the first month under the proposed section will be the sailor's own. Under the present law, whatever the length of the voyage, half of the sailor's wages have already been paid to the boarding-house keeper, and the sailor is working for half pay. Below the maximum allotment of one month's wages it is proposed to allow the Department some latitude in fixing allotments. Through a discreet exercise of the power proposed to be bestowed it is believed that much can be accomplished toward adapting the law to differing conditions at different ports and thus avoiding some of the real obstacles in the way of the enforcement of the act of 1884.
Section 4 of the draft submitted proposes to abolish all allotments to boarding-house keepers by seamen engaged in the coasting trade or in trade with near-by foreign ports. By the act of February 18, 1895,
Congress abolished allotments of every description by seamen in the coasting trade or in trade with near by foreign countries when the seaman is shipped before a commissioner. That act provided that the eighth item of section 4511, Revised Statutes, requiring the shipping articles to contain "any stipulations in reference to allotment of wages or other matters not contrary to law," should not apply to shipment in the coasting trade before a commissioner. Section 4532, Revised Statutes, prescribes that any advance security must be given to the seaman in the presence of a commissioner.
This section, however, applies only to the foreign trade, and the failure to apply it, with other sections, to the coasting trade in the act of February 18, 1895, has created an anomalous condition of affairs which ought not to continue. The allotment note in the coasting trade, by the act of 1895, is forbidden when the shipment is before a commissioner, but permitted when the shipment is not before the commissioner. The Bureau could not assume that the omission of section 4532 from the act of 1895 was accidental, and it has endeavored to meet the condition by requiring when seamen, who do not ship before commissioners, make allotments that the allotment notes must at least be signed by the commissioner. This is only a small measure of protection to the seaman, but it appears to be all for which there is any authority in law. Unless this omission is corrected those who profit by the allotment system, it may be assumed, will cease shipping men before commissioners in the coasting trade, and to that extent will thwart the purposes for which commissioners have been established. Section 4 of the bill proposed corrects this omission by establishing a uniform law concerning allotments in the coasting trade.
Foreign going vessels, by section 11 of the act of June 26, 1884, amended by section 13 of the act of June 19, 1886, are required to carry clothing, boots, etc., to be sold to the crew, when needed, at a profit of not over 10 per cent above wholesale prices. Coasting vessels are not required to carry slops, and in most cases such a requirement for short voyages would be a useless burden upon the owner. The seaman shipping on a coasting voyage must thus come aboard supplied with clothing, and an allotment for that purpose appears necessary. It was not provided for in the act of February 18, 1895. Such an allotment note will not permit of abuse, as the commissioner can, if necessary, require the seaman to produce his bag or box and thus ascertain that the sup-. plies have been actually furnished. The maximum limit of allotment for this purpose is fixed at $10 by section 4 of the bill proposed, with discretionary power in the Department to meet special conditions by regulation.
Objection has been raised to the abolition of the allotment note on the ground that without it shipwrecked seamen must become public charges or tramps. Such instances are not frequent, and the objection has been removed by providing in section 5 that allotments may be made by shipwrecked seamen to cover necessary living and transportation expenses until they can secure a berth, the shipping commissioner to certify that the allotment is reasonable.
Section 6 is a reaffirmation of the present law and regulations requir ing allotment notes to be signed by commissioners, with a more specific direction to those officers to check abuses than is now contained in the law. In it has also been incorporated the provisions of section 4531 of the Revised Statutes, chiefly in order that the provisions of law relating to advances and allotments may be combined into one act.