Boatline and Key Union Find Accord on Contract
By MIKE SECCOMBE
After a standoff lasting four years, the Steamship Authority and one of its major maritime unions are expected to have a new workplace contract within a month.
Agreement between boat line senior managers and the Marine Officers Beneficial Association, which represents some 230 unlicensed deck hands, was reached last Friday night, after two days at the table with a state-appointed fact finder.
Contract details are yet to be made public, and the precise language of the agreement now is being put together by attorneys on both sides.
But the Boston area representative for the union, Bill Campbell, said a final written agreement would go out to members early next month in preparation for a vote.
"The membership ratification vote will be held on July 10 and 11. The membership will have copies of the contract at least a week before the vote," Mr. Campbell said.
The previous agreement between the SSA and the union expired in April 2003, and the parties have been negotiating a new deal since August of that year.
After four long years with little or no apparent progress, both sides said agreement came surprisingly quickly after the introduction of fact finder John Hanson into the process.
"We had scheduled the first two days of hearing for last Tuesday and Friday, and we had scheduled additional days in July," said Steven Sayers, general counsel for the SSA.
Mr. Sayers gave much of the credit to Mr. Hanson and the fact finding process.
"With a mediator who is simply a mediator, they carry no stick. A mediator never really comments on his or her views of what the outcome should be," he said, adding:
"In this situation, with a fact finder, you know that if you are unable to reach agreement, he or she can give a view on what they think the final outcome should be. It's a very different dynamic."
But Mr. Campbell had another view, claiming that the SSA had simply finally decided to negotiate.
"Finally the Steamship Authority came to the table looking to collectively bargain the contract. After over 70 meetings [general manager] Wayne Lamson put in an appearance on Friday," he said.
Mr. Sayers said the agreement will be considered for ratification by boat line governors at their next meeting on July 17.
The contract also was discussed in executive session at the monthly SSA on the Island this week.
Held in the Oak Bluffs library Tuesday morning, the public portion of the meeting began with the presentation of an award of appreciation to state police Lieut. Robert W. Moore, stationed at Oak Bluffs, for defusing a physical disturbance at the Woods Hole terminal on June 10.
"He was off duty and returning to the Island and he really helped to control the situation," Mr. Lamson said.
In other business, Mr. Lamson reported on traffic and revenue numbers.
The business summary for April showed passenger traffic down 6.9 per cent compared with the same month last year, and off 2.3 per cent for the year to date.
"April this year was cooler and wetter than last year," Mr. Lamson said.
Car traffic also was down 3.5 per cent for the month and 2.3 per cent for the year. The greatest decline was trucks, down 10.8 per cent for the month. This continued the trend for the year, which boat line management has attributed to the slowing in building activity on the Island.
While operating revenues were off some $207,000 against budget projections, operating expenses also were lower in almost every major category, including maintenance, depreciation, vessel operating expenses, terminal operating expenses, the cost of operating the two reservation offices, insurance and rent.
The year to date net operating loss at the end of April was $6.8 million, some $1.6 million lower than projected for the first four months of 2007.
"So we're still in pretty good shape and looking forward to the summer," Mr. Lamson said.
Management also presented a draft operating schedule for next winter and spring, which incorporated only minor changes: the winter schedule will be extended five days to April 2, and the spring schedule will be extended to May 20.
Both changes result from the introduction of the ferry Island Home, which has allowed greater flexibility because of its greater capacity and the extra reserve capacity of the new ferry's lift decks.
Governors voted to award a bid for improvements to the Fairhaven maintenance facility to AGM Marine Inc. of Mashpee for $4.5 million.
They also heard there had been strong interest among bidders for the contract to rebuild the Oak Bluffs terminal. Eighteen companies had requested bid packages. Bids are due to be opened on July 10.