Ferry union agrees to cuts, but is it enough?

No doubt sensing the tide of dissatisfaction over public employee compensation flowing this direction from Wisconsin, ferry workers in Washington last week agreed to $3.4 million in unspecified concessions.

Gov. Christine Gregoire, as always attached at the hip to labor unions in general and public sector unions in particular, gushed that the move represented “the biggest sacrifices in the history of the ferry system in Washington state.”

Which isn’t exactly saying much.

In all, the reductions — which haven’t yet been ratified by the ferry workers’ union — account only a third of the $10 million Gregoire purports to cut annually through a variety of means, including management cuts and “legislative action.”

Even at that, it’s still a drop in the bucket compared with the projected $900 million shortfall the system anticipates over the next 10 years.

It isn’t clear whether those numbers take into account recent jaw-dropping increases in the cost of fuel, but since few saw anything like this coming and no one can say how much higher prices will climb, it’s probably safe to say $900 million is a conservative estimate.

And lest we forget, Gregoire earlier this year proposed funding ferry service in part with a regional taxing authority incorporating all nine Western Washington counties — including Kitsap — now served by the current system of 10 routes and 20 terminals.

The plan drew howls of protest from residents and lawmakers alike, but it hasn’t yet been completely scrapped.

All of which simply reinforces what we already knew — that ferry service as we know it simply can’t continue.

To that end, $3.4 million may seem like a monumental sacrifice on the part of the ferry workers now. But if the net result is to force WSF into insolvency, the union leaders and workers would be well-advised to make sure their latest offer was the best one they could make — for all of our sakes.

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