Guemes Island Ferry workers win substantial raises

The Skagit County Board of County Commissioners approved on Monday a four-year contract for Guemes Island Ferry workers with raises totalling 16 percent.

Ferry workers had been working without a contract since Jan. 1, 2022 and as a result wages were locked at 2021 levels, although the local cost of living increased 8% in early 2023 alone, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

According to a news release from the ferry union, the new contract covers the period from Jan. 1, 2022 to Dec. 31, 2025. Here’s a look at what the contract guarantees.

  • 2022: a wage increase of 5% retroactive to Jan. 1 that year.
  • 2023: a wage increase of 3%, retroactive to Jan. 1.
  • 2024: a wage increase of 2%.
  • 2025: a wage increase of 4%.
  • A return to shift scheduling established by past practices. 
  • A change in contract language regarding shift rotation. Full-time employees have customarily worked day shifts; part-time and on-call employees have customarily worked night shifts. The contract now specifies that putting full-time employees on night rotation is not required, but is optional."  

On-call and part-time purser-deckhands also receive a wage adjustment of 10.8% in 2023, retroactive to Jan. 1; the masters, or captains, and full-time purser-deckhands will receive a 7% wage adjustment, also retroactive to Jan. 1. The wage adjustment is designed to correct past substandard wage increases. The starting hourly wage for purser-deckhands had increased from $18.43 in 2009 to $21.38 in 2021 – a total of $2.95 an hour – and the wage topped out at $27.20.

“We thank the County Commission for its vote today,” contract negotiator Guy Mitchell, a ferry captain, said after the commission’s vote. “It was a difficult, lengthy process to get to this point, and we are committed to working with the county to get future contracts approved in a more efficient manner – one that is less costly to the county and the public we serve.” 

Union steward Richard Walker added, “A good contract is good for ferry workers and it’s good for the county. It sets ground rules and makes clear our responsibilities to each other. It helps inform spending decisions and financial planning of 18 human beings on the payroll. It’s an important, legally binding document and we believe our negotiating team and the county can work together on future contracts as partners for progress, and not as adversaries.”

Guemes Island Ferry Workers are represented by the Inlandboatmen’s Union of the Pacific. Contract negotiators were Hart, Mitchell and Purser-Deckhand Emily Grober. The county was represented by Bonnie Beddall, human resources director; Fred Haist, deputy prosecuting attorney; and Robert Braun, a labor consultant from Woodinville.

The Guemes Island Ferry has been owned by Skagit County since the mid-1960s, but a ferry has served Guemes Island since 1890. The current ferry, the M/V Guemes, makes 4,224 round trips a year -- not including doubles and after-hours trips for medical emergencies and power outages.

There are currently 18 crew members on the roster: four captains (one full-time, two part-time, and one emergency on-call); 13 purser-deckhands (four full-time, three part-time, and six on-call); and one full-time mechanic. Two part-time purser-deckhands are also qualified to serve as captains. Crew members are certified in first aid, CPR and hazardous materials handling; and they regularly conduct drills in abandoning ship, flooding, overboard rescue, and shipboard firefighting.