Negotiations between Governor's office and ferry unions could save $10 million

OLYMPIA - Gov. Chris Gregoire has announced $10 million in annual savings to Washington State Ferries operations after contract negotiations between ferry unions and the Governor's office were completed.

Gregoire's plan to help WSF dodge the $900 million budget shortfall that is predicted to result over the next 10 years if action is not taken includes cuts to ferry management, cuts to labor, and legislative action to mend the ferry system's capital budget deficit.

"These are the biggest sacrifices in the history of the ferry system in Washington state," Gregoire said at a press conference Friday.

The new contracts must still be ratified by ferry union members, which WSF Capt. Tim Saffle said he hoped would happen by the end of March.

Of the $10 million that would be saved under the new contracts, $3.4 million would come from reducing ferry workers' pay. The details of the rest of the savings would not be released until the contracts are approved by ferry union members.

According to Saffle, ferry unions’ members met with Gregoire in January after the original contracts, which were proposed in December, were rejected by the state Office of Financial Management because they weren't financially feasible.

"There were a lot of hard decisions on both sides, and again, labor stepped up," Saffle said. "We are going to sell this to our membership. We need to get this ratified."

Ferries Division Assistant Secretary David Moseley said that the tentative contracts were proof that labor and the ferries Division can work together, and he hopes the contracts are ratified "so that moving forward in the future we can continue to find cost efficiencies (in labor)."

So far, according to Gregoire, the cuts that management and labor have made will save WSF $82 million per biennium.

Now that the unions have made savings for WSF, Gregoire is looking to the Legislature "to create an adequate, stable, predictable source of funding so we can continue to run our state ferry system."

Gregoire acknowledged a ferry bill sponsored by Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen that would implement a 25-cent surcharge on all ferry rides in order to build new vessels, but she also called it a Band-Aid.

"The 25 cents is a much needed Band-Aid...but it is just not going to get us the $900 million," Gregoire said.

"We want to build the 144 (car ferry)," she said. "We don't have the capital to do it. Sen. Haugen's idea is to use the 25-cent surcharge to do it."

Gregoire emphasized that the savings made from the union agreement are necessary, and that the work that has been done by the unions deserves respect.

"At the end of the day, it's $10 million," she said. "And I don't know of a ferry system that has ever done this."

Janelle Kohnert is a reporter in the WNPA Olympia News Bureau.


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