ASTORIA, Ore. (AP) -- With commercial traffic along the Columbia River in a slump, pilots and the shipping industry are debating pay raise proposals.
Pilots say it's been too long since they've gotten a raise, and their incomes have fallen behind those of pilots at other West Coast ports as the economy has reduced the number of ships calling at Columbia River ports.
But shippers, whose tariffs pay the pilots' salaries, say the request for pay raises is coming at a bad time for the industry and should be postponed.
They say the cost of doing business on the Columbia is already higher than at other ports because shippers have to pay for two pilots -- one to steer ships across the river bar and one to take them upriver.
The pilots earn six-figure incomes, although the bar pilots say more than half of their income goes to support boats and helicopters to get them to and from the ships they guide through the treacherous mouth of the Columbia.
Ship traffic on the Columbia has fallen around 30 percent in the past year. Two lines, K-Line and Yang Ming, have stopped calling at the Port of Portland in the past year.
Spokesman Josh Thomas said port officials hope both sides can reach an agreement that won't raise costs in the near future. The port's total number of oceangoing vessel calls is down 37.8 percent from last year as of the end of October, he said.
"Cost increases of any kind are a concern to shipping interests, which is why generally speaking they're not happening elsewhere," he said. "In fact, incentives and rate cuts have been more the norm these days."
Two pilot groups have submitted petitions triggering a legal process that could be decided by an administrative law judge, said Oregon Board of Maritime Pilots Administrator Susan Johnson.
Barring settlement, a hearing will be set by Dec. 29, with an order expected by May 28.
Read more on this story from our sister paper, the Daily Astorian, at http://www.dailyastorian.com/main.asp?SectionID=2&SubSectionID=398&ArticleID=65959
Copyright 2009 The AP.