OLYMPIA – The state ferry system would eliminate wasteful practices, adopt operating efficiencies and bring ferry employees’ compensation in line with other state employees under a package of reforms introduced today by key Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate.
“It’s no secret that the ferry system isn’t run as efficiently as it should be and needs to be,” said Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, who as chair of the Senate Transportation Committee has sought to reform the ferry system for years. “Right now we have very different standards for ferry employees compared to other state employees. This brings ferry employees in line with everyone else and eliminates wasteful practices.”
Among other things, the bills prohibit bargaining agreements from being more generous to ferry workers than to other public employees when it comes to annual leave accrual, types of leave, compensated holidays, travel time for commuting, meal compensation and other areas. In particular, the bills limit overtime to the workplace norm of time-and-a-half.
“It’s time for us to take a different tack,” said Rep. Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, chair of the House Transportation Committee. “The public is concerned about how contracts are done. The contracts are out of line with normal expectations, so we are responding in a way that aligns ferry employees with the rest of the state workforce—no more, no less.”
The bills also give managers more tools for managing performance, which in turn will make them more accountable for day-to-day ferry performance.
“Our ferry system is in dire straits,” said Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, ranking member of the Senate Transportation Committee. “This is our first step to try and address the many issues in need of resolution in order to save this very valuable asset to our state.”
The bills further save $235,000 annually by abolishing the state Marine Employees Commission and moving employees under the Public Employee Relations Commission that oversees all other state employees.
“This legislation is seeking to place ferry workers under the same guidelines as all other state employees and help make Washington’s ferry system operate more efficiently,” said Rep. Mike Armstrong, R-Wenatchee, ranking member on the House Transportation Committee. “We want to build in accountability while ensuring that all employees in the state are treated fairly and equally.”
“In my many years as a legislator, I’ve battled the bureaucracy at Washington State Ferries. Time and again, the higher-ups at WSF dragged their feet or failed to recognize ways it could streamline its operations and services,” said Rep. Jeff Morris, D-Mount Vernon, sponsor of a bill in the package that could lead to some management positions being privatized. “My proposal affects only certain management-level positions at WSF if they aren’t able to meet certain performance measures. The old management style isn’t working, so it’s time to try something new.”