In November 2016 the KING 5 Investigators brought to light pay raises proposed by ferry management of 25 percent for the fleet’s staff chief engineers – the approximately 25 workers who oversee operations below deck, and 28 percent raises for roughly 25 staff masters (also known as captains).
“I simply could not see the justification for $20,000 to $25,000 (per person) increases. I could not in good conscience agree to something so transparently unfair to the people of this state,” said King.
The raises would cost the state an additional $1.2 million a year and would come at a time when the ferry system continues to face budget challenges, and riders are being asked to pay more.
Lynne Griffith, the former head of the ferry system who retired in January, proposed the increases. In November, Griffith told KING 5 she did so because the positions are critical for safe and efficient operations. She also said many of the employees are reaching retirement age and a higher wage is needed to attract and retain replacements. In addition, Griffith said the current base pay for the 50 employees isn’t competitive with private industry, and she held a recent compensation survey as proof that State Ferries employees were underpaid.
“(The) recruitment and retention study...clearly demonstrates the gap in their compensation,” wrote Griffith to all ferry workers in November.
But KING 5 found the 128-page Marine Employees’ Compensation Survey, referred to by Griffith, did not support pay raises of 25 percent and 28 percent. According to the survey, published by the state Office of Financial Management, chief staff engineers for Washington State Ferries make 20 percent more, not 25 percent less, than the comparable group cited in the study. State Ferries staff masters earn a base wage of 0.1 percent less than the comparable group, not 28 percent less.
Most other ferry employees were slated to receive pay increases between 4 percent and 8 percent in the next biennium.
“I’m already hearing a lot from citizens on this side of the state who woke up to unfair car tab valuations and feel misled. I don’t think turning a blind eye to raises like this helps rebuild trust. We need to maintain the people’s trust or when we ask them for resources to fund state needs, they won’t believe us,” said Sen. King.
At a hearing on King’s budget on Tuesday, three representatives from organized labor testified against the budget, citing their disappointment that the ferry CBAs were not funded in the proposal.
“I’m disappointed to testify in opposition to this transportation budget mainly because of the silence on two large collective bargaining agreements, the rejection of the maritime collective bargaining agreements,” said Joe Kendo of the Washington State Labor Council.
Kendo said just as the budget funds considerable raises for the State Patrol due to a problem with recruitment and retention, the committee should do the same for the ferry employees.
“You should be ratifying and funding the maritime contracts under this budget,” Kendo said.
“(Ferry workers) protect public safety and they keep our economy moving. They work hard every day with little recognition, but the services they provide are incredibly important. It would be meaningful if this committee demonstrated its appreciation and respect by ratifying the CBAs for (these employees) and we’re just disappointed that that’s not the case at this time,” said Dennis Eagle of the Washington Federation of State Employees.
The next step in the process is for the Senate Transportation Committee to accept or reject the chair’s budget before it would move to the full Senate.
“The transportation budget is huge, so it’s possible that if I didn’t object, no one would even notice. But this isn’t about the dollars, it’s about trust,” said King. “So while this issue might look small compared to the overall budget, its impact could be felt everywhere. No one has to lose here, but these contracts need a reality check.”