WSDOT Ferry

Rep. Michelle Caldier is sponsoring legislation that would work to remove barriers in the hiring of new Washington State Ferry workers and seek to improve working conditions for ferry employees.

The 26th District lawmaker says current practices are making it difficult to increase the ferry workforce at a time when an estimated 132 ferry employees lost their jobs in October as a result of the governor's COVID vaccine mandate.

"Washington State Ferries is operating on a drastically reduced schedule. The system is operating at unprecedented low levels, not due to ridership levels, but instead, because of the inability to staff the boats. Ferry route cancellations are common, affecting thousands of people who rely on our marine highways to get to work, operate their businesses, or to be home with their families," said Caldier, R-Port Orchard. "Instead of making it better by bringing on more ferry workers, policies adopted by the executive branch have implemented specific and narrow hiring practices, and the governor's mandates that resulted in terminations, have made it much worse. My legislation intends to change that and remove those barriers."

House Bill 1608 would direct a review and analysis of collective bargaining agreements governing state ferry employees for the purpose of identifying provisions that create barriers and disparate impacts on newly-hired ferry employees. The review would be conducted by the governor's office, in consultation with the Office of Equity and the attorney general's office. The study would also look at hiring-barrier impacts on women, people of color, veterans and other employees belonging to communities that have been historically underrepresented in the workforce. The analysis is directed to be completed prior to scheduled negotiations for the 2023-25 collective bargaining agreements.

"Prior to the October 18th employee firings, new state ferry workers would be 'on-call' for up to two years. This made it so workers were not assured a set schedule, nor full-time hours. That's a significant barrier to recruitment and retaining new employees, especially those who need stable and consistent work," noted Caldier. "The Legislature is not in a position to micromanage the system, nor should we. However, the bill provides a process in which modifications could be identified with the intent to have enough ferry workers to keep boats operational and on time."

The bill requires the executive branch to negotiate future collective bargaining agreements to stop doing the things that prevent equity, diversity and inclusion within the ferry workforce. Once the analysis is completed, a report is to be submitted to the transportation committees in the House and Senate, as well as to the Office of Equity. The report would include a summary of findings, and specific recommendations for amending or eliminating provisions in furtherance of equity, diversity and inclusion, and removing barriers to increasing hiring and retention of new employees.

Caldier says the report will help the Legislature determine if the executive branch actually makes improvements.

"It's time to modernize workforce agreements and embrace cultural changes in the labor market. This bill helps ferry workers and the traveling public relying on those workers to be successful at their jobs," added Caldier.

The 60-day legislative session begins Monday, Jan. 10.