Guemes Island Ferry staff strike for one day, back in service Tuesday

May 2, 2023, 12:26 PM

Guemes Island ferry...

Guemes Island ferry terminal (Photo from Flickr)

(Photo from Flickr)

The Guemes Island ferry was out of service Monday due to a worker’s strike.

Skagit County’s transportation managers said it is supposed to be a one-day labor action, and the ferry should be running again Tuesday.

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Ferry workers with the Inlandboatman’s Union of the Pacific (IBU) say that county managers are illegally changing the ferry crew’s schedule, which they said threatens the health and safety of the crew.

“Crewmembers are forced to quit over County managers’ chaotic and unprofessional scheduling, switching crew from days to nights with little or no notice or chance to adequately rest to maintain safe working conditions,” the union said. “The county threatens our Guemes Island Ferr service we all count on- how long until inadequate staffing through mismanagement means a reduction in ferry service or worse.”

The IBU has been operating without a contract in Skagit County since its contract expired in 2019 without a new agreement. A Memorandum of Agreement was reached in 2020, which had a slight boost to wages, about 2%, and started a compensation program for adequate footwear on the job.

The memorandum expired in 2022, and the union and the county have been negotiating a new contract since.

In February, the union voted unanimously to reject the latest contract offer from the county.

“The ferry’s negotiating team and the (Inlandboatmen’s Union) said the county has long failed to manage ferry revenue and expenses in a way that has affected its ability to provide wages that keep pace with the cost of living,” the union said in a statement.

A big sticking point for the union has been the contract’s inability to meet the region’s rising cost of living, which has forced some employees to live further away from the station. This can cause issues, as the ferry is not staffed full-time, which in an emergency, can cause ferry workers to have to rush back to work, which could delay critical service.

Crew members said other county workers are being offered 3% raises while ferry workers only get 2%.

The county said they did not receive any advanced notice of the strike. The county recently submitted a mediation request scheduled on March 7.

Contract negotiations are underway between the county and the Inlandboatman’s Union of the Pacific.

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Ferry management said they talked to staff and union members about scheduling concerns and that the issue would be resolved through the appropriate legal process

“The County does not take this situation lightly,” said Ron Wesen, Skagit County Board of Commissioners Chair. “We understand that this unexpected service closure has greatly impacted those living on the Island. The County is doing everything in our power to ensure that ferry workers and residents of Guemes Island are provided safe and dependable transport.”

“Our focus continues to be on resolution,” said Commissioner Lisa Janicki. “We are incredibly disappointed that IBU has not joined us in working toward this goal. We are hopeful that, following this event, the County and the Union will be able to work toward common ground.”

The ferry is back up and running on its normal schedule Tuesday.

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Guemes Island Ferry staff strike for one day, back in service Tuesday