LOCAL NEWS

Washington ferry cancellations go ‘beyond COVID’: Report highlights systemic staffing issues

Jan 25, 2022, 5:28 AM
Wishkah ferry...
Washington's first hybrid-electric ferry, Wishkah. (Washington State Ferries, Twitter)
(Washington State Ferries, Twitter)

Last week, the Washington State Ferries (WSF) announced that “most” of their routes were placed on reduced, alternate schedules, citing crew shortages brought on by the pandemic and a “global shortage of mariners.”

The problem is a persistent one as funding and labor shortages have been a recurring issue for the ferry system for decades.

Tim Eyman’s Initiative 695 from 1999 cut the state’s ability to impose local motor vehicle excise taxes —car tabs — which funded passenger-only ferries. While the Washington Supreme Court would later overturn that initiative, the Seattle Times attributes that tax cut to a decade-long delay in ferry construction, with the beginning of a newly constructed fleet only ready to sail in 2024.

The Legislature’s Joint Transportation Committee (JTC) will look to appropriate more funds to Washington ferries this session. However, ferry cancellations are the result of more than just a lack of money.

The JTC has commissioned a series of reports under a “workforce plan” to identify why the ferries experience staffing shortages and solutions therein. The first of which, an overtime report analysis, was published in recent weeks. It outlines a number of contributing factors to the staffing shortage.

With WA state’s ferries in a ‘critical situation,’ solutions are months, years to come

According to that report, ferry cancellations relate to fickle scheduling and a staffing model that dissuades prospective crewmembers.

“All Deck and Engine crew are hired as on-call Ordinary Sailors or Oilers,” the report reads. “The volatile hours and pay make on-call positions unattractive to potential applicants and inaccessible to many.”

“Employees remain in on-call positions until a permanent position opens, typically long after they have exited the probationary period, often years.”

New crew members are considered probationary for the first 1,040 hours of employment. During that time, they are on call until a permanent position becomes available, and sometimes even beyond.

“I think we’re going to need to look at the the staffing model that the ferry system has to make it a more attractive place to work,” Gov. Jay Inslee said in an October news conference.

“To change that staffing model takes additional dollars, and the Legislature is going to need to help solve that problem to make it a more attractive place to come to work,” Inslee continued. “That has been a long standing challenge.”

The JTC report makes preliminary recommendations to address these problems — a number of which have to do with improving community outreach to increase the number of new-hires. Some of the Legislature’s solutions are more stringent.

House Bill 1608 takes a step beyond improving access to education and hiring by removing or amending collective bargaining agreements with Washington State Ferries.

“In light of the state ferry’s desire to hire and retain a more diverse workforce, it is critical that collective bargaining agreements be reviewed through the lens of diversity, equity, and inclusion,” the draft bill reads. “Some provisions in existing collective bargaining agreements may unintentionally create barriers to hiring and retaining a more diverse workforce. It is necessary for such provisions to be removed or amended.”

Three weeks into the Legislature’s 2022 session, the Republican-sponsored bill has not received a hearing, and one has not been scheduled as of Jan. 24.

“There have been several proposals ,” Rep. Andrew Barkis (Republican, 2nd District) told MyNorthwest. “There are several things addressing workforce development, requests for overtime, a multitude of things. Most of the items are on hold. … We will be taking some actions because of the ongoing problem [with] workforce development.”

“The ferries are an aging workforce with a complicated workforce structure,” Barkis continued. “They had not done a good job with their planning for workforce development. We are starting to get more detail on where the work needs to be focused, and now we can focus the resources on the accountability measures for the ferry system to deliver, which they will need to do. They are facing a situation that goes beyond COVID.”

Local News

Follow @http://twitter.com/Mynorthwest...
MyNorthwest Staff

ORCA overhauls entire system, new era of public transit begins

ORCA's highly-anticipated new website, smartphone app, and real-time value loading for cards launched today for hundred of thousands of transit customers.
1 day ago
ExperTec Automotive technician Adelmo Rodriguez etches a catalytic converter with the cars license ...
Micki Gamez

Catalytic converter theft runs rampant in Seattle, nation sees dramatic increase

Catalytic converters became a hot commodity during the pandemic due to the high-priced metals, such as platinum, palladium, and rhodium, within them.
1 day ago
Olga Syniakova via Verde Music Fund...
Heather Bosch

Songs of support: Artists in Seattle reach out to those who’ve fled war-ravaged Ukraine

Seattle Opera and the Pacific Northwest Ballet Orchestra will hold a benefit concert tonight, Monday May 16th.
1 day ago
Follow @https://twitter.com/HannaKIROFM...
Hanna Scott

National movement prompts thousands of abortion rights activists to flood the streets of Seattle

A national week of action by abortion rights activists hoping to stop the overturning of Roe v Wade culminated with nationwide mass demonstrations Saturday.
1 day ago
Generic image of the vehicle in which Matteson was last seen. An image of the victim was not issued...
MyNorthwest Staff

AMBER Alert canceled for 8-year-old girl in child abduction on Aurora Ave.

Seattle Police department has issued an AMBER Alert for Kiya Matteson, last seen on Aurora Ave. N near the Bitter Lake neighborhood.
1 day ago
72...
MyNorthwest Staff

Seattle announces plan to impound vehicles out of compliance with newly enforced 72-hour parking law

Vehicles that remain in place for more than 72 consecutive hours will now be subject to a tow, courtesy of the City of Seattle.
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

...

Anacortes – A Must Visit Summertime Destination

While Anacortes is certainly on the way to the San Juan Islands (SJI), it is not just a destination to get to the ferry… Anacortes is a destination in and of itself!
...

Ready for your 2022 Alaskan Adventure with Celebrity Cruises?

Celebrity Cruises SPONSORED — A round-trip Alaska cruise from Seattle is an amazing treat for you and a loved one. Not only are you able to see and explore some of the most incredible and visually appealing natural sights on the planet, but you’re also able to relax and re-energize while aboard a luxury cruise […]
...

Compassion International Is Determined to ‘Fill’ a Unique Type of Football ‘Stadium’

Compassion International SPONSORED — During this fall’s football season—and as the pandemic continues to impact the entire globe—one organization has been urging caring individuals to help it “fill” a unique type of “stadium” in order to make a lasting difference in the lives of many. Compassion International’s distinctive Fill the Stadium (FtS, fillthestadium.com) initiative provides […]
...

What are the Strongest, Greenest, Best Windows?

Lake Washington Windows & Doors SPONSORED — Fiberglass windows are an excellent choice for window replacement due to their fundamental strength and durability. There is no other type of window that lasts as long as fiberglass; so why go with anything else? Fiberglass windows are 8x stronger than vinyl, lower maintenance than wood, more thermally […]
...

COVID Vaccine is a Game-Changer for Keeping our Kids Healthy

Snohomish Health District SPONSORED — Cheers to the parents and guardians who keep their kids safe and healthy. The dad who cooks a meal with something green in it, even though he’s tired and drive-thru burgers were tempting. The mom who calms down the little one who loudly and resolutely does NOT want to brush […]
...
Experience Anacortes

Coastal Christmas Celebration Week in Anacortes

With minimal travel time required and every activity under the sun, Anacortes is the perfect vacation spot for all ages.
Washington ferry cancellations go ‘beyond COVID’: Report highlights systemic staffing issues