"Freestyle cruising." Carefree and fun? Maybe for the NCL cruise passengers. But hardly for the crew.
After reading this decision, I’ll never think of "Freestyle cruising" as anything less than an abusive work system for the stewards on NCL cruise ships.
The case I am referring to is the opinion released yesterday by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeal: Wallace et al. v. NCL (Bahamas) Ltd., Docket No. 1:09-CV-21814-FAM.
The case involves senior cabin stewards who worked aboard NCL cruise ships. They filed suit under the Seaman’s Wage Act, 46 U.S.C. 10313, alleging that NCL did not pay them their full wages because their compensation did not take into account the money they were required to pay their helpers to complete their work on embarkation days.
The federal district court found that additional wages were owed, but refused to award "penalty wages" under the Act. "Penalty wages" are owed in the amount of 2 days’ wages for each day payment is delayed. Once the delay or non-payment is proved by the seafarer, then the burden shifts to the cruise line to prove that the delay or non-payment was justified. On appeal, the federal appellate court affirmed the decision and concluded that there was no evidence of willful or arbitrary misconduct by NCL.
The appellate court’s opinion, which is here, is worth reading.
In a nutshell, the appellate court affirmed the district court’s conclusion that NCL didn’t realize that a single senior cabin steward would be unable to clean 30 to 35 cabin and change and make 70 to 75 cabins in a few hours. It’s hard to understand how a court could be so naive. Of course, cabin attendants need assistance in doing all of this work in just around 4 hours. Although the courts rejected the penalty wage claims, it’s still interesting to read the opinion to consider the difficulty and pressure of the work by stewards on NCL ships:
"A passenger’s time spent on a cruise ship is typically very relaxing, at least until it is time to disembark. In this case, the defendant-appellee NCL (Bahamas) Ltd., (“NCL”) decided to make that last day of the voyage less stressful for its customers. To accomplish this goal, NCL implemented a new policy, called “Freestyle” cruising, which permits passengers to stay aboard for a longer time after the ship has docked on the last day of their voyage. Passengers, who would normally disembark very early, are allowed to stay on board until as late as 10:30 a.m. That is the good news.
The bad news, at least for the NCL employees who worked as senior stateroom stewards aboard the cruise ships, is that on that same day, while one group of passengers is leisurely disembarking, another group of passengers is eager to board and begin their cruise ship experience. Due to the arrival of these new passengers, NCL required the senior stateroom stewards to have all of the cabins cleaned by 2:00 p.m. This made it much more difficult for the senior stewards to timely complete their work. That is, although they began their work shifts at 7:00 a.m., for the most part, they were unable to begin cleaning the cabins until as late as 10:30 a.m. because the departing group of passengers was still enjoying their Freestyle cruise. This in turn allowed scant time to complete the assigned cleaning work by 2:00 p.m. In light of the substantial workload and the shortened time frame within which to complete it, most of the senior stewards adopted the practice of hiring helpers (out of their own pocket) to assist them in completing their work on embarkation day.
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On embarkation day (the day a cruise ends, passengers disembark, and new passengers board), senior stewards had to clean between 30 and 35 cabins (although there was some dispute over how many beds 30 to 35 cabins contained, senior stewards had to strip and make at least 70 beds) before new passengers arrived. On these days, their responsibilities included: (1) stripping the beds of linens and sheets; (2) separating the linens and sheets; (3) making the beds; (4) dusting the cabins; (5) sanitizing the cabin’s handrails, door handles, closet doors, frequently touched areas, and telephones; (6) cleaning any used coffee pots and ice buckets; (7) separating the garbage into bottles, cans, paper, and plastic; (8) taking garbage to the incinerator; and (9) vacuuming the cabin and hallways. NCL had rigorous standards that required “immaculate” cabins and a quality control system to randomly check for cleanliness.
In 2000, NCL implemented its Freestyle cruising policy, which permitted passengers to stay on board later on embarkation day. This policy was designed to maximize relaxation for passengers. Prior to this time, NCL required passengers to disembark by 8:00 or 8:30 a.m. With Freestyle cruising, passengers could stay as long (or almost as long) as they wished. The senior stewards technically started their work at 7:00 a.m. on embarkation day, but under the Freestyle cruise system, passengers would leave their cabins much later. Indeed, few passengers would leave before 8:30 a.m., and most passengers did not disembark until 9:30 or 10:30 a.m. Because new passengers would venture to their rooms soon after boarding, NCL required that all cabins be cleaned by 2:00 p.m. This caused problems for NCL senior stewards on embarkation day. One NCL supervisor noted that with the Freestyle “concept we also advertise relax[ing] debark[ation] which puts another stress” on embarkation day.
Although junior stewards worked alongside the senior stewards, they offered little or no help, and in fact had their own separate work responsibilities. The senior stewards therefore had to complete a substantial workload in a shortened timeframe. And, if they failed to finish their assignments or rushed their work, they faced a quality control process that could lead to verbal and written reprimands. Thus, the senior stewards had to hire helpers to complete their duties on embarkation day."