Ferry food vendor prepares for union negotiations

The new concessionaire for the Mukilteo-Clinton ferry submitted a proposal to the Inland Boatman’s Union this week with hopes of returning ferry food service as soon as a labor agreement can be reached.

CDX Corporation, of Mukilteo, is hoping to cash in on the more than 4 million passengers who take the ferry back and forth each year, a large portion of them Whidbey Island commuters.

“Our biggest problem is that ferry ridership time is about 13 or 14 minutes,” said Frances Young, program manager for CDX. “Most of the items we serve will have to be the grab-and-go kind of thing.”

That doesn’t mean the ferry food can’t be improved from previous years, she said. CDX is concentrating on offering locally-produced foods and beverages, with beer from Diamond Knot Brewery near the Mukilteo ferry dock, wine from Whidbey Island Winery, and sandwiches from a Mukilteo company using fresh breads from Rae Bakery in Seattle.

Young said the company wants to be the lunch provider for morning commuters by providing sandwiches and low-carb tortilla rolls for commuters to take with them. Sandwiches, she said, will be large and sold for around $6.

The mornings will include breakfast sandwiches, breakfast burritos, and biscuits and gravy, she said. And long-time commuter favorites, such as Ivar’s clam chowder and popcorn, will return under the new management.

Food service on Washington State Ferries came to a halt Jan. 1 after long-time cafeteria contractor, Sodexho, did not renew its contract. At the time, Sodexho cited high labor costs and union contracts as an impediment to profitability. In particular, the Mukilteo-Clinton ferry was cited as a difficult route on which to make a profit because of the short crossing time.

Dennis Conklin, regional director for the Inland Boatman’s Union of the Pacific, said he’s optimistic the CDX contract can be negotiated within the next week or so, but that’s always a two-way process and difficult to predict.

Another ferry concessionaire, Sound Foods, which serves the Vashon triangle, reached an agreement with the union after three meetings, he said. But, negotiations broke off Tuesday with Cascade Concessions, the vendor chosen for the Bainbridge and Bremerton routes, when negotiators for the company walked away from the table, Conklin said.

The CDX proposal offers sufficient wages, but is asking for major concessions concerning the employees’ share of medical expenses.

“I’ve taken the position that we’re willing to make some concessions and address concerns,” Conklin said, but added that willingness is limited.

CDX’s management plan calls for servicing the ferries from 4 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day. One employee will be working each ferry, eccept during peak hours when additional help will be available. In all, the company plans to have 10 employees for the ferry route.

CDX has previous experience providing food service for employees of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and it expects to be opening a cafeteria soon to service the courthouse in Seattle, Young said.

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