Service crew

Service cuts, no union contract and Mayor Adams insinuating a protest

A Staten Island Ferry pilot docks a boat at the Whitehall Street Terminal, August 3, 2022. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

This article was originally published on by THE CITY

Mayor Eric Adams accuses crews of failing to show up for work during the sharp and sudden cuts to Staten Island Ferry service – while the union representing workers now approaching their 12th year without a contract says captains are blamed to wrong.

On Wednesday afternoon, the city’s Department of Transportation announcement evening rush hour service from Whitehall Street in Manhattan to St. George would run hourly instead of every 15 minutes. This follows a two-week reduction in service last month, which the city said was due to a spike in COVID cases among ferry crew members.

Adams said in a statement that the cuts came after “a significant portion of Staten Island Ferry’s workforce did not show up for work today, and an improvisational route would run Thursday and Friday between the Battery Maritime Building and St. George on the private sector., NYC Non-union ferry.The town hall did not provide any figures or other details at the request of THE CITY.

But the union representing the system’s 100 captains, deputy captains and mates says the mayor wrongly blames them for the main reason the boats are beached: nearly one in five crew members aboard the system Ferry has left or retired in just the last two years, they say, with few replacements, as workers try to survive on a contract they were bound to even though it expired in 2010.

Staten Island Ferry passengers head to Staten Island, August 3, 2022.
Staten Island Ferry passengers head to Staten Island, August 3, 2022. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Citing a nationwide shortage of maritime labor as well as the ongoing labor dispute, Adams in his statement implied that crews were screaming sick in protest: “We are telling the workers who didn’t come today : If you’re not sick, New Yorkers need you to come to work.

Asked by a THE CITY reporter at a press conference at the Whitehall Ferry Terminal why he suspected the absences were linked to industrial action, the Mayor said: ‘I don’t have an answer to that.”

Marine Engineers’ Beneficial Association secretary-treasurer Roland Rexha vehemently denied workers were engaging in work stoppages. “The union is not aware of any deliberate disruption of service and we would not approve of any action to slow down this essential service for our beloved Staten Islanders,” Rexha said.

Last month, the Adams administration said COVID spikes explained why DOT had to cut peak-hour service to three boats at the usual time four – a claim that Rexha publicly disputed at the time.

“The only ‘sick’ thing is OLR’s refusal to offer a contract that reflects the highly skilled and essential work of ferry officers and seafarers,” he said in a statement on Wednesday, referring to the City Labor Relations Office, which handles contract negotiations. between the town hall and the municipal agents.

Work conflict

Ongoing bargaining disputes date back to the administration of former Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The workers received their last raise in 2009 before their contract expired the following year and have been operating under the expired agreement ever since.

This has resulted in an attrition crisis for the Department of Transport, which employs ferry workers. The agency pays Staten Island Ferry captains, the most senior employees in the fleet, about $20,000 less per year than the state average for water transport workers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. .

Over the past two years, Rexha said, more than 20 workers have retired or left the department to work in the private sector, where they can earn significantly more, or the fire department, where captains can take their jobs. retire with a pension of half their salary. after 20 years, while captain salaries are capped under the expired deal at $70,000 a year, while mate salaries – the lowest rung – are capped at $57,875.

Passengers wait to board a Staten Island ferry at Whitehall Street in Manhattan on August 3, 2022.
Passengers wait to board a Staten Island ferry at Whitehall Street in Manhattan, August 3, 2022. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

“We are over 20 people short right now,” Rexha said in a phone interview with THE CITY on Tuesday. “We cannot retain and recruit people under these conditions. We had our last raise in 2010, it’s now been 12 years. There is more urgency than ever – it will only get worse.

Many sailors are college educated, with at least eight years of schooling and training under their belt before qualifying for the required licensing exams.

“The best way to resolve these issues is simply to resolve the contract, and paying people competitive wages and benefits will only help recruit and retain the workers needed to operate the ferry on a regular basis,” he said. Vincent Alvarez, president of the New York City Central Labor Council.

The labor stalemate has also impacted promised innovations for the ferry system.

In December, the Chief Chief reported that a $103 million state-of-the-art vessel designed to support disaster evacuation efforts was idle in Staten Island because the city’s DOT had not yet trained the workers to operate the most sophisticated ship.

On September 11, 2001, sea captains performed the largest water evacuation in history, with Staten Island Ferry crews among them.

Strikes prohibited

New York public sector workers, under the state’s 1967 Taylor Act, are prohibited from striking or engaging in work stoppages to force management back to the table of negotiation.

The law also refers all bargaining disputes and unfair labor practice complaints to the State Employee Relations Board, rather than the federal government’s National Labor Relations Board. A 1982 amendment to the law allows an expired contract for public employees to remain in effect until a new one is settled.

It is not uncommon for public sector workers to work for several years under an expired contract, but it is very unusual for a contract dispute to last more than a decade, according to labor historians who have studied maintained with THE CITY.

“It’s definitely an outlier,” said Joshua Freeman, professor emeritus of history at Queens College and author of the book “Working Class New York.”

In the final years of the Bloomberg administration, 300,000 city workers represented by District Council 37 were working under an expired contract until then. Mayor Bill de Blasio settled the case in July 2014, seven months into his term. But de Blasio never had time to sign a contract with the ferry workers.

Alvarez, the president of the Central Labor Council, called the more than decade-long stalemate “unprecedented.”

THE CITY is an independent, nonprofit media outlet dedicated to impactful reporting that serves the people of New York.