Union pickets ferry docks

Galley workers protest layoffs as Sodexho-WSF negotiations fail.

Ferry galley workers were out in the cold Monday morning – out of work, and picketing in the frigid pre-dawn hours.

Some two dozen galley workers stood by the lobby entrance of the Winslow ferry terminal in the 22-degree cold, handing out flyers and urging passengers to contact their legislative representatives to support restoring galley service on-board ferries, which ended Dec. 31.

Eileen McKinley Sackman, shop steward for the Inlandboatmen’s Union and former chief cook on the Bainbridge-Seattle ferry route, said “informational” pickets were being held at every dock fleet-wide, and will continue every day.

“We’re out here to let the passengers know that we appreciate them,” McKinley Sackman said.

“These passengers make a difference. They are very important to the WSF.”

Judy Hellwig Ross, another former galley worker, echoed her sentiments.

“We’d like our jobs back and to give (the passengers) the best possible service,” she said. “We’ll be out here as long as it takes.”

The galley workers were put out of work on New Year’s Day when negotiations between the union, Washington State Ferries and its food service contractor Sodexho failed.

Sodexho had previously asked out of its contract to provide food aboard ferries, saying the service did not make money.

Linda Kleinendorst, a galley worker for close to 16 years, credited passengers’ calls to the legislature and the office of Mike Thorne, director of WSF, with getting talks restarted at one point when they had ground to a stop.

In the meantime, Kleinendorst said, “I will keep fighting. I’m on a mission. I hope our passengers come through for us.”

Failed talks

David Freiboth, national president of the Inlandboatmen’s Union of the Pacific, said the union had been willing to negotiate.

Just before Christmas, the union voted to offer WSF a one-year contract with 2-3 percent in labor reductions on the boats and a wage freeze. Workers also agreed to pay for medical insurance increases.

Freiboth said he did not understand why WSF then asked Sodexho for a two-week extension to negotiate a one-year contract when that was what the union was offering.

Pat Patterson, spokesperson for WSF, said that IBU’s offers regarding galley services are not directly passed to WSF but via Sodexho or a food concessionaire.

What Sodexho offered the ferry system on Dec. 26 was a 4 percent commission on sales and continued food service on all boats – a sum that Patterson said would be insufficient for WSF to cover galley equipment and upkeep costs.

“I don’t think it’s good business practice to use taxes to subsidize food, and probably not something the taxpayers want,” she said.

Patterson said the two-week extension was an attempt to continue negotiations with Sodexho.

“We didn’t want the galleys to close either,” she said.

Rider support

McKinley Sackman said that the passenger response to picketers has been very favorable: “They want the galleys to open as much as we do.”

Picketers at the 5:30-7:30 a.m. ferry runs took turns warming up in the terminal lobby with free coffee from Commuter Comforts.

A passenger on his way to catch the 7:05 a.m. ferry called out to the picket line, “Come back, I’m hungry!” raising cheers from the picketers.

Fifteen-year bike and ferry commuter Alison Freeman-Gleason says she misses the convenience of grabbing a sandwich on the ferry, which allowed her to spend time at home with her children who have eaten by the time she gets home.

“Having to sit in a cold car to load on a ferry and then not getting her hot tea onboard” was a factor in Freeman-Gleason’s decision to drive to the mainland instead of taking the ferry.

Picketers were joined by State Representative Beverly Woods of the 23rd District, who said she was planning to talk with Ed Murray, the chair of the Transportation Committee in the House and the Legislative Transportation Committee to “look at how we got to where we are.”

Woods said that she has been unhappy with the direction the ferry system has taken since Thorne took over – specifically, in the fare increases and reduced services such as the loss of the passenger-only ferries.

“I would like an explanation from WSF on where they’re going with this,” Woods said.

Woods suggested that bringing back two boats to the Bremerton run would help divert some traffic from Bainbridge and help revitalize Bremerton.

Tammy Brazeau, a galley worker for nearly six years, has more immediate concerns: her family’s medical insurance runs out in a month, at a time when she’s facing medical bills from her daughter’s broken arm.

“We’re just asking people for support to keep us working,” she said.

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