Friday, August 22nd, 2008

Well, some interesting news has come out today that fits perfectly with my recent series of posts about the Congressional struggle to allow the Delta Queen to keep operating. Congressman Steve Chabot from Cincinnati continues to fight for the Delta Queen. He has invited Chairman James Oberstar to visit the Delta Queen and see for himself the array of safety systems in place. Here is Chabot’s press release:

Chabot Invites Chairman Oberstar to Personally View Safety Features of the Delta Queen

For Immediate Release

Date: August 22, 2008  
Contact: Todd Lindgren – (513) 684-2723

Chabot Invites Chairman Oberstar to Personally View Safety Features of the Delta Queen

CINCINNATI — Congressman Steve Chabot (R-OH) has formally invited House Transportation Committee Chairman James Oberstar (D-MN) to view the safety features onboard the historic Delta Queen steamboat.  In a letter sent last week, Chabot invited Chairman Oberstar to tour the boat on August 26, or any other date the boat is scheduled to be in Cincinnati this year.  Chabot also offered to arrange a tour for Chairman Oberstar when the Delta Queen is closer to his Minnesota home.

        “I am hopeful that Chairman Oberstar will take the time to personally view the tremendous safety enhancements that have been made over the years to ensure that every cruise aboard the Delta Queen is safe,” Chabot stated.

Last year, Chabot introduced bipartisan legislation (H.R. 3852) to allow the Delta Queen to continue to operate as an overnight passenger vessel.  The legislation has been referred to the House Transportation Committee, which Chairman Oberstar leads.  The Delta Queen is currently operating under a congressional exemption that is set to expire on November 1, 2008.

The Delta Queen began operating as a sternwheel river steamboat in 1926 and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1989.  For the last 40 years, the Delta Queen has safely operated on the rivers of the U.S. under a congressional exemption due to the paddle wheeler’s wooden superstructure not meeting certain regulations specified under the 1966 Safety at Sea Act.  While Congress originally intended this law to apply to ocean-going vessels, the Delta Queen, which is never far from shore, was unexpectedly caught-up in these regulations. Recognizing the difference between boats operating on inland waterways and those operating at sea, Congress established the exemption in 1968 and has renewed it on nine separate occasions to allow the Delta Queen to continue overnight passenger cruises.


Read Congressman Chabots remarks about the Delta Queen HERE.


As we continue to look at the Delta Queen’s struggle to survive…

In my last post, I noted that Congressman and Committee Chairman James Oberstar’s stated objections to the Delta Queen’s continued operation focus on the boat’s fire safety. I presented in the last post the facts that dispel that concern. The boat’s owners and other media have presented the theory that Oberstar’s objections may not be based solely on safety, but may indeed involve issues related to a union dispute. Here are some reports to consider:

From the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Monday, August 13, 2007
“The committee did not have an issue with the Delta Queen being a wooden superstructure,” says Jeff Urbanchuk, spokesman for Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Hollidaysburg. Mr. Shuster is on the transportation committee.
A union dispute is the primary issue, Mr. Urbanchuk says.
The Democrats oppose the waiver because current ownership did not accept the collective bargaining contract when it bought the historic asset…
“Nonsense” was the only comment from the Seafarers International Union spokesman, Jordan Biscardo.

Los Angeles Times, October 23, 2007
“The Seafarers International Union represented crews on the Delta Queen under a contract with its former owner, Delta Queen Steamboat Co., [Joe] Ueberroth said. That ended after Ambassadors International, which is nonunion, bought the vessel last year. As a result, he said, the union was lobbying against the waiver.”

Joe Ueberroth (Majestic America Line President) on the Jason Lewis radio talk show, Thursday, January 31, 2008 on Minneapolis FM 100.3 KTLK:
“In 2006, it’s interesting to know that the exemption to extend our operating permits did pass the House and at that time Oberstar did vote for the exemption…It wasn’t until the control of Congress and Oberstar became the chair of the committee that the tone changed dramatically…You’ve heard his statement that he says it’s due to safety, but I look at the facts. And I look at the facts that two things occurred from 2006 to 2007. One was a change in leadership in Congress. The second one was union opposition. In all the previous attempts, the unions never opposed this exemption. They did in 2007…It’s a question we’ve asked ourselves. Why would a union fight against American jobs? The one logical answer is that our company has been operating union-free and previous companies operated with unions.”

From the Cincinnati Enquirer, Aug 17, 2007
“Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Chairman Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, also opposes the exemption, mainly because the boat is not unionized.
He told Majestic that he would not support the exemption unless the Seafarers International Union gets behind it. Majestic spokeswoman Ann Marie Ricard said the company reached out to the union but didn’t get an indication that it would be supportive of the exemption.”

New York Times, October 25, 2007
“Joseph McCarthy, general counsel for Ambassadors International, said the company had offered to let the union back on the Delta Queen in return for the union’s support for the exemption, but the union would not budge unless it was welcomed back onto all seven of Majestic’s boats.”

On November 9, 2007, the Seafarer’s International Union posted a response to the situation on their website:
“First, it is ludicrous – and perhaps even slanderous – to suggest that the SIU or any other union either could or would guarantee congressional action on the proposed waiver. That accusation is flat-out false, contrary to what has appeared in print and on line. We indeed met with Majestic America Line to discuss the Delta Queen. However, our position simply was (and remains) that we make every effort to assist our contracted companies, though certainly not at the expense of safety. In this case, we believed we potentially – and we underscore potentially – could help present a persuasive argument concerning the waiver because the SIU has the only viable case for its continuation.”

But there is so much more to this struggle. Check back for more on the Delta Queen’s struggles in the next post. A comprehensive overview soon will be posted HERE.