EDMONDS, Wash. — Washington state ferry service was expected to see a potential slowdown over the busy Labor Day weekend as workers planned a possible “sickout” in protest over Gov. Jay Inslee’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
While it was smooth sailing Monday morning at the Edmonds ferry terminal, officials warned of possible delays throughout the day and even into next weekend.
In response to the potential employee protest, Washington State Ferries (WSF) closed new vehicle reservations last week for the Anacortes-San Juan Islands and Port Townsend-Coupeville routes over the holiday weekend "due to the possibility of disrupted sailings from a lack of crew."
“The suspension is intended to increase the reliability of service for existing reservation holders,” WSF said in a travel alert bulletin updated Monday. “Existing reservations for those dates are not affected, and passengers with secured reservations this weekend should arrive to their departing terminal at least 45 minutes before their scheduled sailing.”
On Saturday, the Washington Federation of State Employees (WFSE), which represents 47,000 state employees, announced it had reached a tentative agreement with the state over the vaccine mandate. The agreement would protect employees seeking exemptions from losing their jobs on Oct. 18, which is the deadline set for state, health care and K-12 employees to be fully vaccinated.
If the agreement is ratified by members, employees who submit their exemption requests by Sept. 13 will suffer no loss in pay if their requests are still being reviewed by the vaccination deadline.
A WSF travel alert bulletin dated Sept. 3 says the Seattle-Bremerton route will be reduced to one-boat service beginning Sept. 7 “due to crewing challenges and a shortage of available vessels.”
The No. 4 Tillikum also remains out of service due to mechanical issues. WSF said technicians were working on the problem, but some sailings were canceled Monday.
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. The ferry system is also being hit with the delta surge putting infected crew members out of work and into quarantine.