SEATTLE -- Washington State Ferries run 450 sailings a day, but if your boat is the one cancelled or delayed the success stories don’t mean anything.
“Every boat’s important to somebody and if that’s the boat that doesn’t go, then that’s their biggest deal for that day,” said ferry rider Jim Corenman of San Juan Island.
The ferry system has seen a dramatic spike in boats being cancelled or delayed because of staff not showing up for work or on-call employees not answering the phone when dispatchers call for fill in help.
During last summer’s busy season there were four cancelled sailings due to staffing issues. This summer that number jumped to nearly 10 times that: 37 cancelled sailings because of staffing issues from mid-June to mid-September. Since then even more boats have been delayed or cancelled because of employee no-shows.
The KING 5 Investigators have tracked an additional 15 cancelled or delayed boats in the last three weeks. Just this weekend four crossings were cancelled or delayed due to staffing problems. They included a departure from Clinton to Mukilteo, a departure from Mukilteo to Clinton and two departures from Tahlequah to Point Defiance.
Ferries Deputy Chief George Capacci said they’re working to correct the problems. One issue they’re looking into is whether or not this is a type of work action. He says they’re talking to labor unions to see if disgruntled employees are causing a work slow-down to pressure management to give back lost wages and positions that have occurred over the last year.
“We need to have a full and open discussion about it, and we are looking into it, yes,” said Capacci.
In 2010 the KING 5 Investigators exposed millions wasted in the ferry system in the yearlong investigation, “Waste on the Water”. Since that time employees’ base wages and overtime have been cut as well as the staffing levels on some boats.
In an effort to save money, the cash strapped ferry system reduced the number of required employees on certain boats to baseline Coast Guard regulations. That happened this June. Prior to that, State Ferries operated their boats over Coast Guard regulations. It was exactly at that time –mid-June—that more staff members were late or missing work or unwilling to come in for fill-in work.
“It has to be considered (a work slow down) into the figure, sure. You’re doing a good job and we’re going to compensate you less?” said Capacci.
Union leader Dennis Conklin from the Inland Boatman’s Union told KING 5 there is no work stoppage or slow down taking place.
“The union has not authorized a work action and neither has the membership. It simply isn’t true. This is ferry system mismanagement. They don’t have enough people now. We’re down to the barebones and if one person is missing, the boat doesn’t sail,” said Conklin.
Union leaders have been vocal about their opposition to smaller crews onboard the vessels. They sent out a memorandum to their membership, obtained by KING 5, on October 7, 2012 outlining the issue.