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Brooks v. Hess Oil V.I. Corp.

January 12, 1987

WILLIAM BROOKS, ET AL.
v.
HESS OIL V.I. CORP., APPELLANT



Appeal from the District Court of the Virgin Islands (St. Croix) D.C. Civil No. 76-830.

Author: Rosenn

Before: SLOVITER, STAPLETON, and ROSENN, Circuit Judges.

ROSENN, Circuit Judge.

This appeal from an interlocutory order*fn1 presents an unusual and knotty question requiring a United States federal court to decide whether an American company violated Liberian law in paying overtime wages due its merchant seamen under a collective bargaining agreement (CBA). Hess Oil Virgin Islands Corp. (HOVIC), the employer, is an American company in the business of refining petroleum and uses barges of Liberian registry in its lightering operations off St. Croix, Virgin Islands. The appellees (plaintiffs) are seamen employed by HOVIC in the lightering operations who sued for overtime pay they claimed due them under Liberian law. The district court granted plaintiffs' motion for partial summary judgment holding that under applicable Liberian law the plaintiffs were entitled to time and a half for overtime worked regardless of provisions to the contrary in the collective bargaining agreement. We vacate and remand.

I.

Plaintiffs, together with other seamen employees of HOVIC, commenced an overtime action in November 1976 and sought overtime allegedly owing under both Panamanian and Liberian law, as well as under several provisions of United States law. However, based on this court's decision in Pierre v. Hess Oil Virgin Islands Corp., 624 F.2d 445 (3d Cir. 1980), that under Panamanian law seamen may be paid at fixed monthly rates, the parties agreed to dismiss the overtime claims of the Panamanian flag seamen.

The remaining plaintiffs, all members of the Seafarers International Union AFL/CIO (the Union), are parties to a series of collective bargaining agreements with HOVIC. The agreement effective from July 27, 1973, to January 31, 1975, provided for a specified base wage rate, payable twice monthly. Art. X, § 1, Add. A. Under that agreement, a seaman was to be available for work in local service for 24 hours of each day, following which he would have the next 24 hours off with pay at a monthly rate. In the event a vessel engagement prevented his receiving the 24 hours off, the seaman would be compensated by receiving equal time off at HOVIC's convenience within the following 60 days. Local service was defined as service in Limetree Bay, St. Croix, or adjacent waters, or between the Virgin Islands, or a voyage of up to 200 miles from St. Croix. Art. IX, § 1. The agreement further provided that a seaman in service on a watch standing basis would be compensated at his regular base rate plus an additional 20 percent of his monthly wage for each day at sea. Art. IX, § 2. The agreement did not contain any provision other than Article IX, §§ 1 and 2 relating to overtime pay.

Thus, under the agreement a seaman could work a maximum of 15 days per month. For those 15 days, an ordinary seaman received in his first year of service in 1973, $730 or $42 per day.

Commencing on February 1, 1975, the CBA by amendment in relevant part provided:

1. Ordinary seamen were to be available for work each day for 24 consecutive hours. The regular working day was established as 12 consecutive hours within such working period.

2. Ordinary seamen were given the next 24 hours off with pay for each regular working day worked. If service prevented the allowance of such 24 hours, the seaman received 24 hours off at HOVIC's convenience within the following 60 days.

3. Ordinary seamen received as compensation for their working days of 12 consecutive hours a specified monthly wage (plus the time off). For any work performed in excess of 12 consecutive hours in the 24 hour period, seamen received in addition a specified hourly rate.

Art. IX, § 1.

Thus, until January 31, 1975, a seaman received a monthly wage of $730 and 24 hours off for each 24 hours he was available for work. As of February 1, 1975, a seaman received a monthly wage of $955 and 24 hours off for each 12 hours worked in a consecutive 24 hour period. ...


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