Save jobs first, wages second in food fight

It’s one thing to trumpet one’s victories. But a little perspective is usually in order, too.

Since last December, the lead item on the Inlandboatmen’s Union website has proudly declared, “Union Ferry Workers Vindicated.” The notice celebrates a labor board ruling that favored then-current contract provisions for shipboard food service employees.

Fine, but vindication doesn’t pay the rent, and perhaps it’s time the IBU changed the headline to reflect the current state of affairs: “Ferry Galley Workers Unemployed.”

That unfortunate state of affairs persists this week – nearly six months after the kitchens went dark and 130 workers were sent home with pink slips – as the IBU and a new food vendor, Cascade Concessions of Vancouver, Wash., were unable to come to terms on a labor pact to restart the service.

As reported on our front page, contract negotiations were declared dead Monday and won’t revived anytime soon. The union says the new vendor is trying to squeeze workers for wage and benefit concessions, and should abide by the old contract with Sodexho. Cascade management and ferry

officials counter that the terms of the old contract were precisely what caused Sodexho to bail out. Without concessions, they argue, nobody can make the galley service profitable.

Certainly, we admire the union for its resolve in

championing the interests of members. But, it strikes us,

it is very hard to protect wages and benefits for jobs that no longer exist.

And the union appears to be a little short on

leverage, because what’s at stake is an entirely

non-essential service. For all the wistful talk of ferry galleys “enhancing the ridership experience,” no one we’ve heard of over the past five months has withered away from going 35 minutes without a snack.

The galleys’ relevance, particularly for tourists coming over from Seattle, will look more dubious still when a new food court opens in Colman Dock later this year. What

happens when those vendors (and a new one in the Winslow terminal, we’re told) start changing riders’ eating habits? No

longer stuck choosing between vending machines and Colman’s lone fast-food outlet, riders should soon have ample and tasty fare to carry on board with them. The only constituency left unserved will be baseball fans accustomed to their pre-game brew (and with the Mariners’ poor play this year, even that crowd is withering). WSF might be better served pulling out the galleys altogether, and converting the space to seating or some other purpose.

To be sure, our favorite bumper sticker of all time may be the one that reads, “Unions: The folks who brought you the weekend.” The historical gains by organized labor in this

country are often forgotten or dismissed; eulogies are being said this week for a former president with a union-busting bent, and the present administration is no friend of the labor movement either. Unions need to be a force in the service economy (and we’d hope they’d start by rallying the million or so hapless souls in peonage with Wal-Mart).

But we should think that getting those 130 galley jobs back, even at some cost, would be the IBU’s top priority. If that takes unpalatable short-term concessions, the losses could surely

be made up in future bargaining, once workers and new

management get to know each other and the viability of the galley service is reestablished.

Why stand on principle, only to find yourself in good

company but queued up for the dole?

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