Galleys will stay open — for now

The galleys on the Southworth-Vashon-Fauntleroy ferries will not go dark on Sunday, but their future is still uncertain.

“Sound Food reached an agreement with the labor unions, but that will not solve the other ongoing problems the service is having,” said Celia Schorr of Washington State Ferries, explaining that Sound Food Cafe and Bakery general partner Bill Dorn is still struggling to make a profit with the year-old venture. “They lost money (this past) year.”

WSF announced earlier this month that the galleys on the Triangle route would be closing on Dec. 31, due to what Dorn described in a letter to the agency as an inability to turn a profit.

In the letter, Dorn explained he attempted to decrease business costs, including the cost of the medical benefits program, but past offers were rejected by his workers and their representative, the Inlandboatmen’s Union (IBU), which represents all ferry employees.

However, when contract negotiations resumed last week, an agreement was reached this time.

“We made some concessions,” said galley worker Sylvia Knopp, describing the negotiations as an attempt to make the employee benefit package work for all parties.

Knopp, who said she has worked in the ferry galleys for eight years, wrapped cheeseburgers as she talked Wednesday, explaining that they were just one of three new items — yet technically old favorites — introduced recently.

“This is a workingman’s boat. We need to cater to those people,” she said, explaining that while more gourmet items may be a hit with tourists during the summer, during the winter most of the passengers are commuters.

“We need to serve items that the everyday person is used to,” she said, adding that the addition of cheeseburgers, hamburgers and oatmeal to the menu was suggested by workers.

“We know what (sells) and what doesn’t sell,” she said, explaining that no matter what you sell, winter is a tough season for many in the transportation service industry.

According to a WSF press release on Thursday, Dorn said the new insurance plan will save his business approximately $46,000 per year, but added that the savings will not be enough to turn his business around.

Following his meeting with the IBU, Dorn met with WSF staff regarding his contract, and asked the ferry system to cover certain equipment repair and maintenance costs, something WSF said is not done for the other operators of on-board food service.

“We worked hard to get food service back on our ferries after Sodexho left in 2003,” said Mike Anderson, executive director of Washington State Ferries. “We’ve always made it clear that the ferry system cannot afford to cover the ongoing business costs of our concessionaires — it is their job to cover the costs of doing business – and that includes ongoing equipment repair.”

WSF officials said they agreed to extend Sound Food’s contract another month, while the two parties work to address other issues, including what they described as “concerns for several months regarding Sound Food’s accounting and bookkeeping methods.”

“Sound Food brought a lot of enthusiasm, good quality food, and community support to the table, which is why we went forward with the pilot project,” Anderson said. “However, in the end, each concessionaire is responsible for the profitability of the business. It is not up to the state taxpayers to underwrite their costs.”

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