This year, those workers are trying to take away the Camano Island Democrat's political power.
Three unions representing most Washington State Ferries employees are endorsing and giving money to Haugen's opponent, ">Rep. Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor, in the 10th Legislative District.
Their leaders know Bailey's conservative politics are far from friendly to their interests. But they say Haugen went too far in 2011 by using her position as Senate Transportation Committee chairwoman to bust one union and eliminate a valued dispute-resolution panel gained through collective bargaining 30 years ago.
"When someone tries to take your collective bargaining rights away, that's crossing a line in the sand," said Terri Mast, national secretary-treasurer of the Inlandboatmen's Union which backed Bailey.
They also aren't forgiving Haugen for a spate of critical public comments including how workers shouldn't be paid extra for cleaning up vomit on the boats and how she feared retribution while traveling on ferries.
"Our members feel so disrespected by her that they could not in good conscience endorse her. We don't want more of the same," Mast said.
The Marine Engineers Beneficial Association and International Organization of Masters, Mates and Pilots also endorsed the challenger. Collectively, these unions represent most of the roughly 1,600 ferry workers and include deckhands, oilers, engineers, chief mates and captains.
"We interviewed Bailey. Did she pass all the tests for us? No," said Bill Knowlton, Washington State Ferries representative for the Marine Engineers Beneficial Association. "Do we think she's better for us than Sen. Haugen? Yes. She'll listen to us."
Haugen, a fixture in the Senate since 1993, called the unions' decision "unfortunate."
"They're still holding a grudge," she said, noting she's garnered backing in this campaign from trade unions representing machinists, carpenters, pipefitters, iron workers and pavers.
Haugen is dueling Bailey for a four-year term in the district that encompasses all of Island County and slices of Snohomish and Skagit counties.
It is emerging as one of the most hotly contested legislative races as Republicans try to knock the Democratic stalwart from office.
Bailey, in her fifth term as a state representative, won the primary with 53.2 percent of the vote. Her performance revealed Haugen's vulnerability in the district, which is pretty evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans.
Bailey said she didn't seek the unions' endorsement. They sought her out and she was "really surprised" at securing them.
"The only thing they asked of me -- and I said sure -- was that I listen," she said Tuesday. "I have an open door. They know that."
The bad blood between Haugen and state ferry worker unions dates back to 2010. That's when the "Waste on the Water" series on KING 5 television described how a handful of employees padded their income with tens of thousands of dollars through a contract provision allowing workers to be reimbursed for mileage and time traveling to and from terminals when filling a shift.
Ferry workers found themselves scrutinized by the public and on the defensive with Haugen.
">In 2011, they agreed to a new contract that included pay cuts and axed the controversial time and mileage reimbursement policies.
Even after the contract was signed, Haugen wrote legislation to strip workers of most of their collective bargaining rights. The final version, which Bailey supported in the House and Gov. Chris Gregoire signed, restored most rights.
But it busted the Masters, Mates and Pilots union by forcing captains to leave and set up their own group. The bill also abolished the Marine Employees commission created in 1983 to mediate labor disputes. At that time, workers gave up the right to strike in exchange for the commission.
Haugen said her legislation last year aimed to bring more control to the state ferries' budget and operations
"People were milking the system. We had a bill to address the concerns of the series," she said. "It was nothing personal. They took it personally. I was just trying to save the ferry system."
Eliminating the commission saved $450,000, she said. "To me, it was a no-brainer," she said.
Haugen is apologetic about comments made after she received "really nasty letters" during the debate on the bills.
"I said I'd be nervous about going on the boat in my car," she recounted. "I was feeling threatened. I said some things that were inappropriate and I apologized. I probably overreacted."
Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; firstname.lastname@example.org.
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