Pay-Delay Protested -- Fish-Boat Crew Angered -- Trawler Workers Demand Checks
Crewmen of the factory trawler Arctic Hero are in another battle for wages with their Seattle-based managing company, this time on land.
Nearly three weeks after frustrations over delayed wages caused a near-mutiny aboard the trawler on a fishing expedition in Alaska, crew members of the Arctic Hero still have not received their paychecks.
Nor have some employees from two other boats managed by AKC Corp., the Northern Hero and the Alaskan Hero.
Seamen from the three vessels say a $100 advance, handed out Monday, is the only money they've seen so far.
The company handed out more checks yesterday, but they were dated Dec. 7. Furthermore, the company has been telling crew members to call on that day to make sure there's enough money in accounts to cover the checks.
Angry fishermen crowded the company's small waiting room yesterday, demanding answers. Children crawled over furniture as their parents pleaded for money.
Crew members said they were owed from 30 to 90 days' pay plus bonuses - amounts ranging from $2,500 to $6,750.
Company representatives didn't have much to tell them - AKC was in disarray.
A man who had controlled the company said he no longer knew what his title was, the front-office staff was brand new, and the man who had been serving as spokesman had left his job. Nobody was talking.
AKC is a joint venture between Japanese and American investors, but its fishermen say it is principally controlled by a Japanese businessman.
X Company employees told some seamen yesterday that their wages couldn't be paid until money was wired from Japan.
The Northern Hero and Alaskan Hero were seized in August for operating under Japanese
control in violation of U.S. law. Those cases are pending in federal court in Anchorage.
Chris Lyden, one of the company's chief executives, said he had no idea whether AKC would have enough money to cover the checks Dec. 7.
He said the company might be reorganized. ``Right now I don't know anything about what the situation is,'' he said. ``Everything's up in the air.''
Seattle attorney George Luhrs said he would file requests today in federal court that AKC be ordered to pay three Arctic Hero processors their wages and compensation for injuries the men suffered on board.
``It's entirely possible these three vessels are going to steam off into the sunset,'' Luhrs said. ``I'm not sure we're dealing with a company that's prepared to honor all its debts.''
James Smith, one of two Seattle crewmen arrested for starting the Arctic Hero melee, was back in town fighting for his money after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor count of assault. Smith said that, by contract, he was supposed to be paid back wages 72 hours after being fired by AKC.
``If they had just paid us, we wouldn't have torn up the boat,'' Smith said. ``There's no legal way of doing things out there on the water, so you gotta take things into your own hands.''
Mike Lowry of Anacortes, a processor aboard the Northern Hero, said he was owed $2,500. ``I'm a car payment behind,'' he said. ``That $100 won't pay my bills. All it takes is this no-money thing to get you freaked out.''
The waiting-room atmosphere at AKC was tense. ``I'm hungry! I'm here for my money!'' yelled an Alaskan Hero processor, who asked not to be identified.
A young women with two small children in tow told a company representative she had an overdue house payment.
The representative replied that he was sorry, but the money was being wired from Japan and there was nothing he could do; then he disappeared into a back office.
The Nov. 16 riot occurred about 100 miles west of the Aleutian Island port of Dutch Harbor, after crewmen heard their checks weren't ready. The ship's chief engineer and the lead foreman of the processing operation were injured.
The vessel's master sided with the crew and refused to unload the ship's catch of fish until checks were received. AKC removed him from command.
AKC representatives claimed paychecks were waiting on shore in Dutch Harbor at the time of the fight. Crew members said those turned out to be worthless photocopies. AKC wouldn't comment on that yesterday.
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