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Jerry Cornfield | jcornfield@heraldnet.com
Published: Friday, April 1, 2011, 8:28 a.m.

Ferry workers' contracts done, but political battles remain

Union workers for Washington State Ferries figured if they took a cut in pay and gave up some lucrative benefits it might end a simmering political battle with state Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen.

They were wrong.

On Thursday, as the last of five unions ratified a contract with those concessions, Haugen, D-Camano Island, pushed ahead with a bill to limit issues workers can bring to the table in future collective bargaining agreements.

The bill approved by the Senate Transportation Committee, which Haugen chairs, also eliminates the Marine Employees Commission and converts captains, chief engineers and terminal supervisors from union members to management.

Haugen's move caught workers off-guard. Earlier this session she put those same items in a Senate bill which is awaiting a floor vote. Thursday, she wrote them all into a House bill thus opening a second front in this tussle.

Capt Tim Saffel of the Masters, Mates, and Pilots association expressed disappointment and disagreement with the bill at a Thursday public hearing at which he noted the largest five ferry worker unions had agreed to givebacks totalling $20 million the next bienium.

"We are moving forward," he said.

Inlandboatmen's Union of the Pacific was the final union to vote. It issued a statement afterwards saying workers had done their share and lawmakers needed to find a permanent funding solution to the system's fiscal woes.

"The chairs of the Transportation Committees have had over ten years to resolved this funding issue for the marine highways, which are constitutionally part of this state highway system, and to date the only solution seems to be higher fares, cutes in service, and sacrifices from the employees," the statement read.

Roughly 1,600 workers are covered by the revamped collective bargaining agreements that will run two years starting July 1, 2011.

Under the agreements, salaries will be reduced by 3 percent and the rate of pay for overtime will drop from double time to time-and-a-half.

Also, the controversial provision of paying relief workers for their time commuting to a terminal for a fill-in shift is being eliminated. Instead, these workers will be paid a set rate for their travel time while still being reimbursed for their mileage.

Finally, crew sizes may be changing with fewer workers on some sailings. Exactly how this will be handled will be determined in consultation with the U.S. Coast Guard, which sets minimum staffing levels for ferries.


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