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 …
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.