BY PAUL BECKWITH
One recent Sunday morning, I was sitting down to a cup of coffee and the Sunday paper. I skipped through to the sports page. The headline story was about 8 on 8 football on Lopez Island. I enjoy these “throw back” stories and started to read. However, the first paragraph instead had the obligatory ferry worker bashing. In this case the author felt that the crew member was angry because he thought she had tried to hit him with her car. She “promises” she didn’t and I believe her; she also states later that this was her first time on a ferry and maybe she just got a little closer to the deck hand because she was in unfamiliar territory. And the reporter couldn’t have known that six to eight weeks ago we received a notice from the governor that drivers were actually doing that: swerving toward the deck hands. We were told if it happens to immediately call the Chief Mate who was to call 911. Maybe those Lopez Island workers were a little gun shy.
Yes, I work for WSF, deck department. I have for more than 38 years, the last 35 on the Mukilteo-Clinton run. I am not disgruntled. Or even gruntled. I like my job. I have watched kids grow up and have their own families, watched as other commuters grow old (like me). Acquaintances who wave and say “have a good one” and outright friends as in going to their homes for dinner and vice versa. I think they are the best commuters on Puget Sound.
So, for my own sanity, I consider my job to be taking these nice people to work and then home again. That way I do not dwell on the insanity that is management. Which, by the way, has grown from 22 people when I started (the list was kept in every wheelhouse and started with the head of WSF and included the clerk/steno/typist at the end) to . . . well, nobody really knows. Seven hundred, eight, a thousand? They are tucked away everywhere; some are now called consultants, some are actually carried on the payroll of one of the ferries or another, the whole thing is mind boggling and the more you know, the crazier it is and more outraged you become. So I just pretend that nothing exists south of my run.
But lately that has become impossible. Starting with the “Waste on the Water” series where management took a no-name reporter and spoon fed her stories of several people who used/abused the system to up their incomes. How do I know that’s where the information came from? Well, for starters, they would name names and show an employee’s picture. The very same picture that was used for our ID badges and supposedly kept in a secure place. That got everyone up in arms and down with the unions. Unions; the people that brought us the 40 hour work week. We are under worked and we all make $150,000 a year. Um, sorry, but that figure would take me three years.
Now the focus is on missed trips due to employees not getting to work on time. Just on my run two trips were missed last week: the first on Monday, Nov. 26. A memo states it was an “error in dispatch.” Then on Nov. 28 we had the infamous “captain oversleeps, is on the wrong boat and had to be taken back to Whidbey Island,” which actually just made both boats late. The Community Transit buses and Sounder Train dovetail their schedules with ours so it turned into a real mess. I don’t blame the people for being angry. But hold on a second folks. Please. The captain (who came from Vashon Island) was told by dispatch to catch the Cathlamet and sleep on it because that was the boat he would be working on in the morning. When he got to Mukilteo and saw which boat was on which schedule, he felt that perhaps he had been misinformed and called dispatch to be certain. He was told again to catch the Cathlamet, sleep on it and start his shift at 4:55 a.m. So he did.
And, contrary to the many stories, he was actually in the shower when the Cathlamet left Clinton at 4:40 a.m. The Kittitas was where his 4:55 a.m. start was supposed to be. I also have a print out that shows “Captain slept on wrong boat,” followed by “dispatch error.” And yet, when WSF spokesperson Marta Coursey was questioned by the South Whidbey Record, she stated that “he overslept and the Cathlamet didn’t realize it.” Do they make this up as they go along? Or did she just not get the memo? The WSF Ops center directed the captain of the Cathlamet to return to Clinton even though they were well past half way to Mukilteo. In my opinion it may have been more judicious for the Cathlamet to go ahead to Mukilteo so at least one boat would be on time. But, it’s not my call.
The reason so many trips have been missed is because, just prior to summer schedule, management took away one sailor on each Mukilteo-Clinton boat, as well as on many others. They were still “legal” according to the USCG Certificate of Inspection. But when we got the 130-car ferries to replace the 100-car ferries the union bargained for an extra body because there just wasn’t enough help for the extra work involved with bigger boats. Not to mention it would take more people to handle an emergency. So when the state removed that person we were at bare minimum.
If anyone is late, for whatever reason, the boat cannot sail. Period; no matter whose fault it is. I would wager that there were just as many people oversleeping or dispatch errors or flat tires last year as this year. But last year that extra person was a built in cushion so the boat could still sail; that cushion is gone.
Ferry employee Paul Beckwith lives in Kirkland.