Gregoire signs bill decertifying ferry captains

Despite receiving veto requests from union leaders and rank-and-file members across the state, Gov. Chris Gregoire on Tuesday signed legislation into law that decertifies the ferry captains’ union at the Washington State Ferries and requires them to go through a new election process if they want to retain union representation.

ESSB 5742 was hotly contested legislation that included a  fare surcharge to fund construction of a new ferry, established management performance measures, and phases out the Marine Employees Commission. The latter two provisions were prompted by KING-TV’s “Waste on the Water” news reports last year that exposed WSF management’s failure to prevent “systemic wasteful spending” on employee perks that included housing and travel expenses, free ferry rides, and in some spotlighted cases, excessive overtime pay.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen (D-Camano Island), originally proposed taking away many of the ferry workers’ contractually negotiated benefits, mandating minimum 8-hour shifts, imposing new restrictions on overtime pay and other restrictions on collective bargaining. That legislation was decried by the Washington State Labor Council as a “blunt instrument that takes out a decade of frustration on the wrong people, tramples on fundamental workplace rights, and circumvents the collective bargaining process.”

The Democratic-controlled House amended the legislation to remove that objectionable language. But the Senate followed Sen. Haugen’s lead and refused to pass the House version of ESSB 5742. The back-and-forth culminated in a “compromise” version of the bill unveiled in the special session’s final days. At Sen. Haugen’s insistence, it included Section 8, which decertified the International Organization of Masters, Mates & Pilots, ILA/AFL-CIO as the exclusive bargaining representative for ferry captains and required a new election for union representation. Haugen said that ferry captains shouldn’t be allowed to be in the same union as other ferry employees, implying that their membership in the same union was somehow responsible for abuses of employee perks.

Leaders of more than a dozen union organizations, including the Washington State Labor Council, decried Section 8 as “union-busting” and urged Gov. Chris Gregoire to veto Section 8. In addition, many individual union members called the Legislative Hotline and sent emails urging such a veto.

On Tuesday, Gov. Gregoire did partially veto the bill, removing much of its language regarding ferry management performance measures (see Gregoire’s partial veto message), but she left intact Section 8. So effective July 1, 2013, the Public Employee Relations Commission will sever all ferry captains from their union, the Masters, Mates & Pilots. The ferry captains can have a new election to retain union representation but any future captains’ union must be in a separate bargaining union from all other ferry employees and negotiate a separate collective bargaining agreement.

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