Staffing struggles lead to more ferry cancellations

Staffing struggles lead to more ferry cancellations
SEATTLE -- Despite Gov. Chris Gregoire's demand for a solution, staffing struggles forced two more ferry runs to be cancelled Monday morning.

The ferry problem first came to light last month, and a letter from the Coast Guard could mean even more passengers will soon be left on the dock.

Monday's missed sailings brings the total to 54 cancelled runs since June. On Monday, Gregoire said she asked for a meeting with the union to help solve the problem. In the meantime, passengers are begging her for a fix.

"The message to Governor Gregoire is please solve this, we can't do this," said Pam Sipe.

Sipe made the 4:40 a.m. ferry from Clinton to Mukilteo on Monday, but she was one of the lucky ones. The 5:10 a.m. to Mukilteo was cancelled, leaving people stranded on the dock and late for work.

"I'm very concerned about that, so much so that I talked to Paula Hammond this morning and I asked her to invite the union representatives to see me this week," Gregoire said.

Monday's runs were canceled because a crew member called in sick. State ferries officials say they started trying to fill the position Sunday night, but weren't able to and had to cancel the runs.

Sipe said the cancellations are becoming habit.

"Well, there was a cancellation last Wednesday and there was a cancellation this morning," she said. "So that's pretty frequent. It's at least once this week and it was once last week."

Gregoire said the public deserves better and will meet with the union representing ferry crew members to find a way to improve service.

The missed sailings started in June, when the state changed staffing on boats to the minimum requirements. Now, the Problem Solvers have obtained a letter from the Coast Guard saying some vessels don't have enough crew members to adequately handle a collision, a fire or another major emergency on board.

Gregoire said they are actively recruiting right now to hire new on-call ferry workers.

"We can't afford any more missed sailings, so we're going to go out recruit, and train up to make sure that doesn't happen," she said.

On the Friday following the Fourth of July, 13 workers called in sick. State officials say dispatch made 240 calls that day, desperately trying to find people to fill those empty positions.