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Labor Day weekend ferry reservations shut down in Washington ahead of expected employee sickout

Washington State Ferries shut down Labor Day weekend reservations in response to the anticipated protest.

SAN JUAN COUNTY, Wash. — Washington state's ferry service is facing a potential slow down over Labor Day weekend when crew members are expected to stage "sickouts" in response to the state's COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

KING 5 sources confirm rumors that crew members will be calling in sick up and down Puget Sound during one of the busiest times of the year.

"Some kind of outage on Labor Day weekend could have devastating effects," said Rick Hughes, an Orcas Island business owner and former Ferry Advisory Committee member.

Sickouts are expected on all ferry routes by ferry workers who are opposed to the COVID-19 vaccine mandate requiring state employees, health care employees and K-12 employees to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18. 

In response to the potential protest, the state ferry system has shut down ferry reservations for the weekend.

"We’re very concerned about some disruption due to staffing, just not having enough people to operate the boats," said Washington State Ferries (WSF) spokesman Ian Sterling.

A widespread ferry protest could temporarily sink a system already treading water. The ferries are already short-staffed, and there is a global shortage of maritime workers.

At the same time, the ferry system is being hit with the delta surge putting infected crew members out of work and into quarantine. According to a memo from WSF's chief of staff, 91 workers also requested vacations last month over the course of a single day. 

Sterling says a sickout would not only be illegal but misdirected. 

"That could stop a vessel from sailing. That not only puts a big burden on your coworkers, but also an inconvenience to potentially thousands of customers," Sterling said.

"I just think it's incredibly selfish," added Hughes. "I respect people's rights to make their own decisions, but to shut down the only way in and out on Labor Day weekend at a time when we're all trying to do business?"

There are deeper concerns on Washington's islands about people being able to get across Puget Sound for emergencies, doctor visits, or simply a break from all of the madness.

"I just think this is the wrong way to express your frustrations with the chaos we're experiencing every day," said Hughes. "There won't be much support from this community."

Sources tell KING 5 News sickouts are possible on Monday, Sept. 6, Tuesday, Sept. 7 and Saturday, Sept. 11.