The real problem with ferry service is the labor unions
March 5, 2009 · 9:33 AM
I concur with Central Kitsap Commissioner Josh Brown that innovative thinking is needed in dealing with Washington State Ferries woes.
However, I have yet to see any.
All I see are attempts to squeeze more revenue blood out of a stone as regional lobbies try to force lawmakers to give ferries more priority and funding.
But I see no attempt to address the central problem of excess expenditures and inefficiencies in labor.
How many realize that 60 percent of WSF’s entire budget goes to its union labor at vastly inflated labor rates?
How many realize that the Washington state labor rates are the same as the other best-known inflated labor rates now prevalent in the United States — namely, the “Big Three” of the auto industry.
The average wage (including benefits) for a Washington State Ferries employee has been calculated at about $70 an hour ($140,000 per year).
Meanwhile, our Legislature has been impotent to prevent growth to such unreasonable rates.
Any success in finding new revenue will merely go to feed the dragon, i.e., the unions that have made our state ferry system such a financial debacle.
The Big Three of the auto industry have recognized that only a declaration of bankruptcy could provide them with legal authority to renegotiate their labor contracts.
The labor unions recognized it also, and after a brief display of resistance for their members, they joined wholeheartedly with the industry in the Congressional bailout campaign to prevent bankruptcy action.
They also agreed to labor concessions.
That is not going to happen in Washington state because the only means by which WSF labor contracts could be forced into renegotiation is if the state declared bankruptcy, which isn’t likely if our bond rating is to be maintained.
There are only two alternatives to this. One is if WSF is reorganized into an independent corporate agency, able to declare bankruptcy apart from the state.
The other is if elimination of ferry runs and loss of jobs forces the unions to come to the table voluntarily to negotiate sizable concessions in their obscene labor costs.
For this reason, I wholeheartedly support major reductions in the number of Puget Sound ferry services now maintained by WSF.
Since the Legislature is afraid to buck the unions, this is the only strategy that could likely bring unions to the table and ferries back on line at efficient and affordable rates.