Skagit County addresses possible shutdown of Guemes Island Ferry
Jul 18, 2023, 8:49 AM | Updated: 9:40 am
(Photo from Flickr)
Skagit County transportation managers say they don’t believe union contract talks will lead to an unplanned shutdown of the ferry between Anacortes and Guemes Island. Previously, an unscheduled strike shut down the ferry for one day back in May.
According to a spokesperson with Skagit County, some flyers are circulating saying there could be “possible service interruptions due to ongoing crewing shortages exacerbated by the County’s refusal to bargain a fair contract.”
The County says it has been in mediation with the union and will continue to bargain, and there are no scheduled actions that would cause any ferry service interruptions. Under Washington state law, public employees don’t have the right to strike.
This is despite the fact that on May 1, the Guemes Island Ferry was out of service due to a worker’s strike.
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 Ferry 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 disputes claims that they refused to negotiate a new contract with workers, saying they are still working to reach a compromise.
“The County remains committed to providing its workers fair wages and working conditions and we are hopeful that it and the union will come to an agreement soon,” the county said in their update.
While it is unclear when or if any action will be taken by the union, residents should be prepared as the ferry is one of the only public ways on and off of the island.