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Staten Island Ferry Workers and City Hall Agree to Mediate Contract Dispute

A resolution to the 12-year stalemate that has left workers without raises since 2010 could be in sight.

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A Staten Island Ferry pulls into the Whitehall Terminal in Lower Manhattan, Aug. 3, 2022.

Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

The union representing Staten Island Ferry workers agreed on Monday to use a mediator to settle its contract dispute with the city, a sign of movement in the 12-year stalemate that has left ferry captains and mates without a raise since 2010.

“We have accepted the Mayor’s offer for a mediator to sit-in and observe our next collective bargaining session with the OLR,” Marine Engineers’ Beneficial Association secretary-treasurer Roland Rexha said in a statement referencing the city Office of Labor Relations. “It is our hope we can continue to work toward a negotiated settlement meeting as early as next week.”

Unlike arbitrators, who listen to facts and evidence from both sides and issue their own decision, a mediator assists both parties in a bargaining dispute to help them reach an agreement. Though either party may request a mediator, both management (the city, in this case) and the union must consent to the mediator. MEBA and the city have not yet selected who the mediator will be.

Staten Island Ferry crew members have been working with wages that have not budged since the year Instagram launched. Under the lapsed contract, captains’ pay tops out at $70,926 a year, while salaries for mates are a maximum of $57,875 — far below the state average, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Rexha added the union is still waiting for the city’s response to the workers’ proposal dated May 26, which put forward a 18% raise over the life of the 12-year contract following the pattern set by other municipal unions in waves that came in 2014 and 2018.

“As the mayor has said repeatedly, the city will continue to engage in good faith with the union to reach a voluntary, pattern-conforming agreement in the same way that we have done with virtually all other city unions for these rounds of bargaining,” City Hall spokesperson Jonah Allon said in a statement on Monday. “We are pleased the union has agreed to the city’s proposal to appoint a mediator to assist the parties in seeking to resolve this contract.”

The date for the next bargaining session has not yet been set, according to the union.

Left Behind

The contract dispute covering some 100 ferry captains and mates goes back to the former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who in the final years of his third term failed to settle any of the union contracts that had lapsed under his tenure.

Bloomberg’s successor, Bill de Blasio, quickly corrected course, settling contracts representing 60% of the city’s workforce in his first months and nearly all of them by the time he stepped down — except for the one covering the Staten Island Ferry workers.

This month, Robert Linn, the OLR commissioner for most of de Blasio’s tenure until his retirement in January 2019, told THE CITY he didn’t know why the matter was not solved under his watch.

“This is a unique group that is still open under three administrations. And the question is, what is the reason for that?,” Linn said in an Aug. 5 interview. “In the de Blasio administration, for 151 out of 152 bargaining units, we found solutions…. We didn’t for this one, and I don’t know what the answer to that is.”

Rexha previously told THE CITY that the contract dispute — coupled with a national maritime worker shortage — has led to profound attrition problems for the ferry service, with nearly one in five crew members retiring or leaving for work elsewhere in the past two years alone.

When staff shortages led to service slow-downs earlier this month, Mayor Eric Adams suggested the workers were engaging in an illegal sick-out — a charge the union denied. 

“It is getting harder to motivate a workforce that is severely underpaid and without a contract for over 12 years,” Rexha said Monday. “The reliability and safety of the ferry service remains everyone’s priority and this can be resolved with a strong contract that recognizes the hard work and value of our crew.”

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