Golden Gate MEBA Ferry captains to strike Friday

Golden Gate MEBA Ferry captains to strike Friday
http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Golden-Gate-Bridge-ferries-won-t-r...
By Michael Cabanatuan
Updated 6:10 pm, Thursday, September 25, 2014


A Golden Gate Ferry boat arrives in Larkspur, Calif. on Friday, July 1, 2011. Photo: Paul Chinn, The Chronicle

Thousands of commuters who enjoy a relaxing ferry commute will have to find another way to travel to work or the ballpark Friday when the Golden Gate ferry captains stage a one-day strike.

The 16 ferry captains represented by theMarine Engineers’ Beneficial Association will strike from 4:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., shutting down all ferry service between Marin and San Francisco, including service to the Giants game at AT&T Park. About 9,000 commuter trips are taken on the ferry daily, and another 1,400 trips are taken by baseball fans headed to or from AT&T Park.

“The boats cannot run without those captains, “ said Priya Clemens, spokeswoman for the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District. “The best thing for people to do is to check alternate routes.”

The Alameda/Oakland, Harbor Bay, Vallejo and South San Francisco ferries operated by San Francisco Bay Ferry will operate as usual.

The ferry captains union is part of a coalition of unions at the district that have been negotiating for a new labor agreement for months. They have been working without contracts since July. According to union officials, increased health insurance costs are the main issue.

The captains union filed an unfair labor practice charge with the state Public Employment Relations Board on Wednesday, accusing the district of failing to negotiate fairly.

“The MEBA and other employees do not trust the district’s current proposals at the bargaining table,” said Dave Nolan, a union representative. “Round after round of negotiations have not resulted in a fair contract for these workers.”

Denis Mulligan, Golden Gate’s general manager, said the district had been negotiating with the captains since April and had resolved most issues. He said the district is trying to balance its budget without putting all the burden on people who pay bridge tolls and transit fares.

“We’re trying to strike a balance between our ratepayers who pay bridge tolls and ferry fares and our employees,” he said.

The strike will shut down the Golden Gate Ferry terminals at Sausalito, Larkspur terminals and the Ferry Building and AT&T Park in San Francisco.

Golden Gate Transit bus service and traffic on the Golden Gate Bridge are not expected to be directly affected by the strike but will undoubtedly be crowded with extra commuters.

“Thankfully, it’s a Friday, which is a little lighter,” Clemens said. “Nonetheless, prepare for a tough day.”

Robert Barley, a ferry captain, said the union is frustrated with the pace of negotiations and thought a strike was necessary to get the district’s attention.

“Going on strike tomorrow is the last thing we want to do, but the district has given us little choice,“ Barley said Thursday.

Last Friday, machinists represented by another union in the coalition staged a one-day strike and picketed at the bridge toll plaza administration building, but that did not affect commutes. The Golden Gate Labor Coalition contends that the district’s offer of 3 percent raises for each of the three years in the contract combined with increases in health insurance premiums will leave workers taking a pay cut.

District officials have said that their workers are well paid compared with others with similar jobs in the Bay Area, and that they’re asking them to pay only a slightly larger share of their health insurance costs.

“They’re the highest-paid ferry captains on San Francisco Bay,” Mulligan said. “And they have generous health plans. We are asking for a modest increase, but it’s more than offset by the generous wage.”

Ferry riders waiting for boats at the Larkspur terminal Thursday afternoon said the strike will be inconvenient if it lasts more than a day. Susie Kelly of Terra Linda said her husband commutes by ferry daily but has Friday off. If he were working, she said, “He’d just drive — it's only a day.”

Asked if ferry captains should be allowed to strike, she said: “Absolutely. If you ask and you ask and you ask, and the district doesn’t listen, what other option do you have?”

Debbie Gettys of Healdsburg who was headed for the Giants game, was sympathetic but not sure she supported the captains.

“They’re not alone,“ she said. “Everyone is in the same boat right now with health care, not just them.”

Michael Cabanatuan is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail:mcabanatuan@sfchronicle.com

Twitter @ctuan