Senate votes to end free rides for ferry workers

  • Jerry Cornfield
  • Thursday, March 11, 2010 8:17am
  • Local News

The state Senate voted Wednesday evening to bar state ferry workers from riding the ferries for free when they’re not working.

The perk is part of contracts employees have negotiated with the state. Workers are only supposed to use it on ferry runs that are not sold out but senators said in floor debate that they had heard of a handful of cases of abuse.

Sen.Curtis King, R-Yakima, offered the amendment that makes the perk go away when current contracts expire. It passed — to some folks surprise — on a 24-20 vote (you need only a simple majority for amendments).

It was attached to a much larger bill that redraws the rules for collective bargaining between the state and its maritime worker unions.

One of the major changes proposed is ending the use of so-called ‘baseball arbitration’ to resolve each impasse between the state and a union.

As in baseball, the arbitrator gets pitches from the state and unions in a dispute and picks one. The unions have won most of the time. One victory secured ‘seniority by dispatch’ for relief workers, a practice that has resulted in some employees earning tens of thousands of dollars in travel and mileage reimbursements in 2009 on top of their salaries.

In last night’s debate on HB 3209, Sen. Cheryl Pflug, R-Maple Valley, proposed an amendment to revise the reimbursement rules but it was defeated.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, Gov. Chris Gregoire took three steps toward revamping how the ferry system handles payroll and scheduling.

These include asking State Auditor Brian Sonntag to do a performance audit of those processes and having a panel of maritime experts size up the operations of Washington State Ferries against other public and private ferry systems nationwide. She also directed the Department of Transportation to prepare a comparison of ferry worker wages and benefits with those of other state employees.

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