No Safe Harbor for New York Tugboat Union

Crew cuts mean a tug-of-war for new leaders

The new administration was mindful of the bad economic tides as contracts came up for renewal. "We did things easy," said Harrigan. Likewise, when Kosnac, a firm with just two dozen employees, sat down for talks, the union acknowledged that it was a small company struggling in a lousy economy. "The guys agreed to take a wage freeze to help out," he said.

Beatty, who has worked for Kosnac for five years, said he wanted no part of a strike until he heard about the company's demand to cut staff. "There was no way we could go along with it," he said. "I'm out there a week at a time. I know how much tougher one less man makes the job. We just can't go any lower than we've already gone."

Like the union, Kosnac is a multigenerational affair. The current owner is Veronica Kosnac Raffone, whose grandfather founded the company. A couple of years ago, she hired a former president of the local, Charles Chilemmi, to serve as a top manager. Chilemmi ran Local 333 from 2000 to 2005 during a time when Harrigan and others were pushing hard for reforms; he also served as a $132,000-a-year vice president of the international union. "I think that's what this is about," she said. "I think it's a personal vendetta on the union's part."

As for the manning cuts, Kosnac said she is trying to stay competitive. "All of the nonunion boats run with four men," she said. "There are out-of-town boats coming into the harbor that operate with just three workers. I'd never do that, but we've lost out on lucrative contracts."

The union denies it's waging a vendetta. "We don't have a choice," said Beatty. "And it's not that they're not making money. They just want to make more. Kosnac used to be a great place to work. I loved my job. There's nothing like it. It's what I've always done. I like being on the water, the quiet, the peacefulness. You're in tight quarters among five people, but you're away from everyone else. The view is always spectacular. It's a different world. I know every corner of this harbor, places no one gets to see. My wife is always saying she doesn't understand when I come home after a week out on the tug why I want to go out fishing to relax."

trobbins@villagevoice.com

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