No food aboard ferries anytime soon

Talks break down between the union and the WSF’s new concessionaire.

Unable to reach a contract agreement with the Inlandboatmen’s Union, a concessionaire has abandoned plans to restart food service on the Bainbridge-Seattle ferry route this summer.

Washington State Ferries announced the breakdown of talks Monday on behalf of Cascade Concessions. The Vancouver, Wash., outfit declared failure after what were generally described as acrimonious negotiations with the IBU on a labor contract for galley workers.

Nove Meyers, Cascade president, said Tuesday that the union would not budge from the terms of the old contract, which he said drove the previous vendor, Sodexho, away. Counter-proposals made by the IBU actually increased costs, he said, with workers demanding more paid union meetings and lunches, and refusing to accept a 401K plan instead of contributions to the union pension fund.

“What they’re working with is the very thing that caused the last guys to go under,” Meyers said. “I’m flabbergasted, really. Why their leadership doesn’t see that is beyond me.”

IBU officials failed to return repeated calls for comment, but had previously blamed Cascade for trying to exact unfair cuts in wages and benefits. In an update to members May 26, union officials accused Cascade of “unprofessional conduct” and of walking out of a bargaining session.

For their part, WSF officials expressed disappointment at the failure.

“No food on the ferries is an outcome that serves no one’s interests – not the concessionaire, the union members and most of all our customers,” WSF said in a statement.

The galleys were shuttered and some 130 jobs lost on Jan. 1, when Maryland-based concessionaire Sodexho pulled out in the middle of a 10-year contract, saying the service was not profitable.

Cascade was awarded the Bainbridge-Seattle galley franchise in April, following two rounds of bids by Washington State Ferries. The company promised to restore 70-80 galley positions, plus various administrative posts.

But the announcement was clouded by the need for labor peace; under a ruling by a state board, the previous contract was still said to be valid. WSF has appealed that ruling, with the case to be heard in Superior Court later this summer; otherwise the contract doesn’t expire until mid-2005.

WSF officials did note that a food court is under development at Colman Dock. The Winslow terminal could get its own vendor, Commuter Comforts, inside the building in spring 2005, manager of business development Brian Volkert said.

The IBU has come to terms with Vashon-based Sound Foods, who will provide galley service on the Vashon-Seattle run. Under the agreement, galley workers there will earn a reported $14-16 per hour.

But even that service has been stalled as the vendor deals with higher-than-planned insurance costs.

“I don’t think the galleys will go away, but at some point some middle ground will be found,” Volkert said.

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