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Tugboat Employer Refuses to Recognize State Wage Law

by | Oct 20, 2009

Tugboat Employer Refuses to Recognize State Wage Law

It’s becoming a long road for Bay Area tugboat Captain Jerrold Karmin.  After filing an overtime wage claim with the California Labor Commissioner based on his employer, Marine Express, refusing to provide overtime pay for work above eight hours per day, Mr. Karmin won at the hearing when the Labor Commissioner ruled that the belief held by Marine Express that the federal wage law ‘seaman’s exemption’ preempted state wage law was incorrect.  Marine Express then ‘appealed’ this decision to the Alameda County Superior Court and Mr. Karmin retained Goyette & Associates.  Following a one day trial, the Superior Court bought Marine Express’ argument that the state overtime pay requirement was preempted by the seaman’s exemption under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).  Gary Goyette then took that decision to the California Court of Appeal and won; the Court of Appeal ruled that even if a tugboat Captain satisfies the FLSA seaman’s exemption, such exemption from overtime pay under the FLSA does not preempt or overrule California’s overtime pay requirements when the employee in question performs his work within California boundaries, lives in California, and pays California taxes.
Marine Express won’t give up, as they have now filed a Petition to the California Supreme Court to hear this matter.  They still believe that since Mr. Karmin’s work involved servicing anchored, ocean going vessels in the San Francisco Bay, and since such vessels travel on the high seas after being serviced by Marine Express, the federal law must control over state wage law.  Of course for such argument to make sense, any work having a connection to the high seas, or to work in other countries, or even in multiple states should be governed only under federal wage law.  This of course was never the intention of California Legislators enacting state wage law and requiring time and a half pay for all work above eight hours per day.
Goyette & Associates will soon file a preliminary Answer to the Marine Express Petition, arguing that state wage law for California residents working entirely within the state is well established, and therefore the California Supreme Court should not even hear this matter. Whether the Supreme Court will accept the Marine Express Petition and will require full briefing from the parties will be determined over the next few months.


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