Washington Governor Jay Inslee’s announcement of mandatory COVID-19 vaccination for state employees comes at a time when the state’s ferry system is experiencing a serious staff shortage.
KUOW reports that in an Aug. 13 advisory, Washington State Ferry Chief of Staff Nicole McIntosh said there were “91 unprecedented requests for relief yesterday.” She thanked the crew members who helped cover their absent colleagues.
In response to the shortage, the agency canceled crossings and switched from two ferries on the Edmonds-Kingston and Clinton-Mukilteo routes to one. Washington State Ferries spokesman Ian Sterling said staff issues have been a chronic problem throughout the pandemic, but last week was “as bad as it has been, due labor shortage, due to people active with Covid or needing to be quarantined “.
He estimated that there were currently six to seven active Covid cases and even more employees in quarantine.
“Getting that many people out is a real challenge,” Sterling said.
Inslee has issued a vaccination warrant that applies to most state employees – and those not fully vaccinated by Oct. 18 are at risk of losing their jobs. A full vaccination means two weeks after a final dose, which means workers need the final dose of Pfizer or Moderna, or the single dose of Johnson & Johnson by October 4.
Captain Dan Twohig, the regional representative for the International Organization of Captains, Journeymen and Pilots, one of the many unions representing ferry service workers, said last week’s staff shortages were an anomaly.
“It was an unusual spike, I think, for the number of jobs open, but I couldn’t really attribute it to anything in particular,” he said. If people quit their jobs during the vaccine’s tenure, he said, “it will put additional strain on the ship crew, but there really is no way to quantify it until that is. occur”.
A coalition of unions representing Washington State Ferries employees began negotiating with state officials this week on the implementation of the vaccines mandate. Twohig said the unions agree the mandate is legal and will move forward.
But he said federal law gives them the right to negotiate any impact on this change in working conditions.