Earlier today, a bipartisan coalition of legislators, including Mary Margaret Haugen (D-10), Curtis King (R-14), and Rodney Tom (D-48), proposed two bills that would implement cost-saving and efficiency measures in the state's ferry system. The first of the two bills aims to control labor costs and bring worker benefits in line with those of other state employees. The second proposes a set of requirements that ferry management must meet by mid-2013, or face privatization.

The first bill would require the state and ferry employees to renegotiate the current labor contract with a stringent set of conditions. Current ferry worker labor contracts contain benefits that far surpass the norm for state employees, legislators claim. "Right now we have very different standards for ferry employees compared to other state employees," Haugen said in a statement.

Legislators are proposing that overtime pay be limited to time-and-a-half (rather than the current 250 percent threshold), that travel pay and travel time reimbursement rates for "temporary" decade-old contracts be normalized, and that employees would have to work for eight-hour shifts. The bill would also cut down on free ferry passages for off-duty workers and their families. Under the proposal, the state would also abolish the Marine Employees Commission and relocate ferry employees under the umbrella of the state's Public Employee Relations Commission, saving an estimated $235,000 a year.

The second bill raises the prospect of privatizing the ferry system altogether. And it would hold ferry management responsible for establishing at least a 70 percent "on-time performance" standard and maintaining certain cost-controls, including reductions in overtime pay and cost per passenger operating costs.

Rep. Jeff Morris (D-40), a sponsor of the house's version of the bill, said that "time and again, the higher-ups at WSF dragged their feet or failed to recognize ways it could streamline its operations and services." His bill gives ferry operators an ultimatum---until June 2013 to meet the bill's standards, or face the privatization of management-level positions.

The dual bills together could potentially reduce operating and labor costs, though they do not deal directly with the question of finding a long-term funding source for the ferry system. That question is punted to another session.

Governor Chris Gregoire's office, which recently proposed a more drastic reform to the state ferry system - a locally controlled regional ferry district - had not yet reviewed the bills today, but was glad to see legislators moving to solve the long-term problem.
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