Past perks now haunt ferry workers as they work with state to cut costs
State Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen has picked on state ferry workers for months.
Her latest jab at them: the “vomit clause.”
It’s a contract provision allowing those working on vessels to earn double-time pay for cleaning up when passengers throw up.
“That’s one that really stuck in my craw,” said Haugen, D-Camano Island. “We certainly don’t give overtime to some prison guard who cleans up after an inmate or someone working in a mental institution or even someone who worked caring for a person at their home and had to do an unpleasant task.”
Ferry workers snarl at this latest point of attack, insisting it doesn’t tell the whole story. They say that extra pay only goes to those who work with dangerous material and hazardous substances. That means cleaning the bilges, pumping sewage — and once in a while dealing with blood, feces and vomit.
“That is in there for a reason,” said David Williams of the Marine Engineers Beneficial Association, the union that represents engine room employees. “We have to clean it up and smile about it.”
Yet it’s put workers on the defensive about their earnings, again.
They’ve been stuck in the position much of the past two years. The public’s faith in them crashed amid a storm of stories of employees riding ferries for free, racking up obscene amounts of overtime and gaming the system to pad their incomes.
It’s all legal because it’s all allowed under terms of their contracts.
Even so, with Washington State Ferries broke and its leaders begging for more taxpayer support to survive, such practices by workers doesn’t look good. Worse, it’s incited a level of public contempt toward the men and woman who safely move millions of people across the waters of the Puget Sound each year.