Delayed and canceled sailings expected Labor Day weekend as WSF preps for potential protest over vaccine mandate for employees

Posted 9/2/21

Officials with Washington State Ferries are warning that a lack of ferry crew members will prompt additional canceled sailings during the busy Labor Day weekend, and WSF is also preparing for some …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Delayed and canceled sailings expected Labor Day weekend as WSF preps for potential protest over vaccine mandate for employees


Officials with Washington State Ferries are warning that a lack of ferry crew members will prompt additional canceled sailings during the busy Labor Day weekend, and WSF is also preparing for some workers to not show up for work in response to Gov. Jay Inslee's mandate requiring state workers to get vaccinated for COVID-19.

WSF management and union officials sent a message to all ferry workers on Tuesday afternoon that any protests over the vaccination requirement will negatively impact the traveling public as well as their fellow co-workers.

In an email Tuesday to local ferry advisors, John B. Vezina, government relations director for Washington State Ferries, said any organized action to protest the vaccine mandate would be illegal and WSF has taken steps to lessen the impact to ferry passengers.

"As you know, WSF is experiencing significant COVID-related crewing challenges," Vezina said in the Aug. 31 email. "As we enter the always-busy Labor Day weekend, there is a high probability of additional canceled sailings due to a lack of crewing."

"Additionally, there are rumors circulating about a possible organized job action by some WSF employees this weekend in response to the governor’s vaccine mandate," he added. "Knowing that we are likely to continue facing staffing challenges this weekend, we are taking action to, if possible, lessen the impact on passengers."

In a proclamation issued Aug. 9, Inslee ordered all state employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by Oct. 18.

As part of the response, WSF announced earlier this week it would no longer be taking reservations on the Port Townsend-Coupeville and Anacortes-San Juan Islands for any sailings between Friday, Sept. 3, though Monday, Sept. 6.

WSF said existing reservations for those dates will not be affected.

In his email, Vezina also said WSF's operations and planning teams were developing plans for maintaining as much service as possible with the crews that do show up for work.

Ferry riders have also been warned that long delays and canceled sailings are expected through the holiday weekend.

In the message to ferry workers, WSF employees were reminded of their critical role in keeping the state's marine highways open to the public, emergency responders, and local businesses.

"Without you, it doesn’t happen," said the message, which was signed by WSF Assistant Secretary Patty Rubstello, WSF Chief of Staff Nicole McIntosh, and union representatives from the Ferry Agents, Supervisors and Project Administrators Association; the Inlandboatmen's Union of the Pacific; Marine Engineers' Beneficial Association; International Organization of Masters, Mates & Pilots; and the Office and Professional Employees International Union.

"Unfortunately, this message is also for our frontline coworkers that may be considering taking personal action that may disrupt ferry operations in order to protest the state’s vaccine requirement," the message continued. "Please consider that any action that increases the pressure on the dispatch system puts an unfair burden on your fellow employees to try to fill your duties. It also is detrimental to the traveling public who depend on us.

"The agency is working diligently to provide information to staff and collaborate with the Maritime Coalition of labor unions to bargain the impacts of the vaccine requirement. Any action taken by individual employees with the purpose of disrupting service will only work against the efforts currently underway with management and these labor partners," they added. 

"It has been a hard summer with staff shortages, missed sailings and the pandemic," WSF and the leadership of the Maritime Coalition said in the message. "To all of you who have kept the system operational through these difficult times, please know, and be proud of the fact that your labor is truly appreciated by the millions of people in the Puget Sound region who depend on you. Thank you, in advance, for your continued professionalism this coming weekend and beyond."

Ferry travelers were advised earlier this week by WSF to prepare for the possibility of disrupted sailings "due to COVID-19 cases and quarantines among crew and the global shortage of mariners."

“Our dispatch team is working in overdrive to staff our vessels with some crew needing to quarantine, with many crewmembers holding over and working beyond their scheduled shifts to keep our vessels in service,” Rubstello said Tuesday.

“In addition, like many industries, the maritime sector, both locally and internationally, is facing a shortage of experienced employees and many marine transportation systems are dealing with a staffing shortfall. We continue to recruit new employees, but we’re struggling to find qualified mariners,” she added.


4 comments on this story | Please log in to comment by clicking here
Justin Hale

Good Lord Tom, you just can't get beyond your hatred for Trump can you? Well, why not since there is precious little good to say about the job the current POTUS is doing.

You say 17 states have enacted laws restricting access to voting. That does not jive with this from ( Not surprising that once again you distort reality to suit your partisan purposes.

You say that people are protesting the government mandate to wear a mask, once again a distortion of reality. Mostly people are protesting against the mandate to be vaccinated. Wearing a seatbelt and being forced to being injected are hardly comparable. One more distortion of reality, trying to tag Trump as the "white supremacist" who is against vaccination is B.S., he has encouraged people to take the vaccine.

Answer me one simple question Tom, should we be forced by mandate to take the vaccine? Yes/No?

Are the WSF workers right or wrong to stage a "sick-out" in protest of the mandate?

Thursday, September 2
Justin Hale

Oops!!, wrong page.

Thursday, September 2
Tom Thiersch

To those ferry workers contemplating a "sick-out", to the various union bosses, to every other state employee who defies the law:

Governor Inslee has stated that workers who engage in such illegal strikes will lose their jobs. I hope he keeps that promise.

For the rest of you who are too young to remember what can and should be done when a labor union tries to hold hostage the public who pay them, just Google [Reagan PATCO] and read the Wikipedia article at:

Friday, September 3
Dage Corvish

Your little summary leaves a whole lot of the tale untold.

Air traffic control was (probably still is) a high stress/high rate of burnout profession with low pay and little opportunity for advancement.

Reagan promised to be an advocate for PATCO in exchange for their endorsement of his candidacy for Pres. They endorsed him. Eventually, they went on strike. Rather than intervene in negotiations, he fired them.

That act led to corporations feeling they, too, could go that route, over time resulting in far fewer union members and leading to the crushing income inequality and virtual serfdom we are living with today with workers competing with each other for crumbs while corporate masters get richer. Reagan gave inequality the big push and it has been downhill since him. Until, t**** came along, he topped my list of worst presidents. I didn't vote for Reagan, but I voted for Gorton for Senate, but he backed Ronnie Demento on virtually everything. I haven't knowingly voted for any republican since then. Probably some judges were R. but it's hard to know on them. There was a time when judges considered the law, rather than their own politics and personal religious beliefs. Well, that's a different story. I ramble on.

That strike was all about safety of air passengers. Tired, stressed air traffic controllers were responsible for thousands of people during an eight-hour shift. The sick-out by ferry workers is NOT about safety of passengers or crew. Quite the opposite.

Should they be fired? I'm inclined to agree given the direction the pandemic is headed. That they can't see that is bewildering.

Happy Labor day all. Hope you are still laboring next week. (Unless you are in labor, in which case, get your rest while you can.)

Sunday, September 5