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Unions hold up surviving ferry bill

"Labor organizations uniformly oppose a ferry bill that would enable passenger ferry alternatives.Senate Bill 6212 allows private, non-profit or public-private partnerships to run passenger ferries on state ferry routes. It's the only viable bill that could be passed this legislative session.But the Washington State Labor Council and nine unions that represent state ferry workers believe the alternatives will slash wages and benefits of the workers. It will be a race to the bottom, said one union representative.The bill hit a bump in the road Feb. 11, when Democrats in the Senate Rules Committee voted to delay sending it to the full Senate.Sen. Betti Sheldon, D-23rd District, said the committee wanted more time to work on amendments that could alleviate labor fears.But Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-35th District, thought that was the wrong strategy. I think labor's concerns have been addressed in the bill, he said. I can't see why we should amend the bill at this point.Sheldon said labor unions asked for greater representation on a task force established by the bill. But he said ferry workers and ferry riders have equal representation - one member each - and they shouldn't get more.Pare Abbott, a union representative for Marine Engineers Beneficial Association, said privatization is labor's greatest concern. Privatization will hurt family wages, he said. (The bill) is really premature. The state ferry system needs $5 million to keep ferries going (for a year), and that will give us time to find solutions that will really work.On Feb. 14, before the bill came before the full Senate, labor lobbyist Steve Ross from the Masters, Mates and Pilots union tried to launch an amendment to prohibit private operators from running passenger boats on state ferry routes.That would make this bill something we could live with, Ross said.Abbott agreed, saying, If that amendment got included, I think we would support the bill, with some hesitation.But Tim Sheldon called the amendment ludicrous for striking private service, which he believes is a viable option. Sheldon said ferry riders are overwhelmingly in favor of considering privatization as an option.Betti Sheldon said the most likely route in Kitsap County to use private service would be Kingston. A private operator could shuttle passengers between private docks there and in Seattle.Although Abbott said the amendment wouldn't affect the Kingston-Seattle passenger ferry run because Washington State Ferries never started service there, Bremerton and Vashon runs would be affected.It would change Kitsap Transit's plan. Ross said transit would be required to own and operate the passenger boats and they would have to assume contracts already established between workers and Washington State Ferries.But Kitsap Transit executive director Dick Hayes' plan was based on a private operator. Hayes assumed workers would not be unionized at first, and he expected to split workers' shifts - something done routinely for Kitsap Transit drivers but not allowed in state ferry workers' contracts.The amendment would also affect the Vashon plan for a non-profit ferry operator. As a condition of being allowed to operate a ferry on that route, all state ferries labor contracts would apply to any operator.SB 6212 was heard Feb. 15 by the full Senate, but results of the vote were not available at press time."

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