No Strike Warning Leaves Guemes Islanders Stranded

The Inland Boatman’s Union’s ferry workers struck the Guemes Island Ferry on Monday, May 1, 2023 without any warning, especially to island commuters. Those waiting on the Guemes Island side for the 6:30AM run waited and waited for the ferry to depart Anacortes but it never moved. Calls to the County went unanswered.  

The commuters included nurses, a person scheduled for a 7 am eye surgery, another for a colonoscopy, and an inconvenienced traveler attempting to make an international flight. One of the nurses had four dialysis patients to run. Another nurse organized a foot passenger landing craft from Anacortes but did not get to work until 11 am due in part to hours lost without knowing what was delaying the ferry and for how long. Henry Rose launched his boat and ferried many across in the morning and again in the afternoon.

At 8:51 am, Islanders received the first and only terse e-mail notice of the suspension of service from Skagit County saying that, “Ferry services will be unavailable until further notice. We have every expectation that the ferry will be fully operational tomorrow . . .”

At this time, the County offered no explanation nor did it attempt to arrange alternative transportation like a passenger-only landing craft as did the nurse. The County offered no statement about emergency service to the island. A ferry worker, Richard Walker, did say that the ferry would run in case of emergency, but it should be noted that on the previous Monday, no workers responded to an after-hours emergency med call from the island and the ferry never ran.

At 11:30 am, County Officials met with union representatives at the County’s Council Room at 1800 Continental Place in Mount Vernon.  At least one union representative came up from Seattle.  Some islanders learned of this meeting which was not widely announced and were able to attended by ZOOM.  All this points to the fact that the IBU had carefully planned this strike and associated actions with no tip to the islanders. Some say that the IBU would have lost the element of surprise had they announced the strike. The element of surprise is not an integral function of a strike. Most unions dealing with essential services, like nurses and teachers, announce the strike before-hand, then strike making the action no less effective and even gaining publicity for their cause.

The strike action was meant to show the power of the union using the island ridership as leverage in the negotiation. Without a tip to the ridership, or any communication in the critical morning hours, potential island allies were left in the dark. Meanwhile, despite recent inclusion of text messaging in its ferry notification system, no notice came from the Ferry Management for two and a half hours.  Ferry Management made no attempt to mitigate the impact of the strike by providing some form of alternate transport. The net result was that the islanders were the unfortunate pawns in this labor dispute.

The question remains will the IBU strike again and will Ferry Management have any back up plan for a passenger-only, beach landing craft to assist commuters and provide emergency service?  

-Steve Orsini
May 4, 2023

Tags: ferry