Gregoire, unions may have deal

Ferries: Workers group still must OK $10M in cuts

March 5, 2011 

Gov. Chris Gregoire

Gov. Chris Gregoire talks to reporters at the annual AP Legislative Preview.

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

After months of "tough" negotiations, a tentative agreement in the next ferry workers contract has been reached, saving the state $10 million annually, Gov. Chris Gregoire and a union leader said Friday.

Details were sparse on the agreement, but Gregoire and labor representative Tim Saffle of the Masters Mates and Pilots union said they hope to have the contract ratified by ferry workers in the next month.

The tentative agreement is likely to include wage cuts, similar to the 3 percent salary reduction other state workers have agreed to, amounting to about $3.4 million savings annually.

Friday’s deal comes during a legislative session where Gregoire and lawmakers are looking to make major cuts in the ferry system operations. Previously, Gregoire’s office has said that the ferry system is financially in bad shape, with a $180 million shortfall in its operating budget and a $900 million deficit in its capital funds stemming from voters approving Initiative 695, which limited the state’s motor vehicle excise tax.

Gregoire’s proposed 2011-13 ferry budget is $440 million, which includes raising fares by 10 percent, cutting runs, a fuel surcharge (to construct a new ferry), and a money transfer of $44 million. Cutting runs has been opposed by key legislators and they are moving forward with their own proposals, which include restricting collective bargaining for ferry state workers, bringing those closer to what other state workers follow.

The ferry system has already seen across-the-board administration cuts that will continue and with the tentative labor agreement, Gregoire said it puts the state on course to shave about $80 million for the ferry system costs in the next two years.

If the contract is ratified by the union, the savings are enacted immediately for this current fiscal year, Gregoire added.

“It was very difficult and tough negotiations,” said Saffle, a ferry captain. “We are going to sell this to our members. We need to get this ratified.”

The ferry system also came under scrutiny this year after a report by Seattle news channel KING 5 that showed some ferry workers collecting high salaries from the practice of paying workers for their time and mileage traveling to and from a shift.

Saffle said that those provisions in the contract have been “addressed.”

Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, chair of the Senate transportation committee said she had not been briefed on the details of the agreement.

“Until we know what’s in the agreement, everything is still on the table,” said Haugen, who is considering a restriction to collective bargaining for ferry workers to bring them in line with other state workers.

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