Staten Island Ferry Engineers Entitled to Wage Boost, Comptroller Rules
As crews complain low pay rates lead to understaffing and service disruptions, Lander’s decision could yield $300K per worker in back pay alone.
Staten Island Ferry engineers are entitled to a big salary boost and at least six figures apiece in back pay, city Comptroller Brad Lander determined Thursday.
The crews have been working without a union contract for more than a decade and are counting on the comptroller amid a five-year legal battle to help them achieve wages that help attract new hires at a time where chronic understaffing in the ferry system has led to cuts in service.
In his decision issued Wednesday, Lander determined that the hourly rate for the ships’ marine engineers should have been $50.45 as of 2022 — in contrast to the current $37.65 that has been in effect since 2009.
For more senior chief marine engineers, the Comptroller set the rate at $79.71 by 2022. Currently, their pay rate is just $40.32.
Lander’s announcement follows an August 2022 ruling from Judge Faye Lewis of the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings who determined that Staten Island Ferry engineers are entitled to prevailing wages equivalent to their peers in the private sector.
The matter was referred to the Comptroller’s office, which is tasked with enforcing prevailing wage standards for the city’s workforce.
The comptroller approximates that engineers will receive approximately $300,000 per person in back pay, and chief engineers will receive approximately $1.2 million per person once the city Office of Labor Relations does the calculations.
Either the city or the union can appeal the decision within 30 days.
“Staten Island Ferry engineers, who have been without a contract for over a decade, deserve a fair wage for safely steering thousands of New Yorkers across our harbor every day,” Lander said in a statement on Thursday. “Today’s ruling reflects diligent review of the work, pay, and benefits for comparable workers to set a fair prevailing wage as required by state law.”
The Marine Engineers Beneficial Association, the union representing Staten Island Ferry’s roughly three dozen engineers, is “carefully reviewing” Lander’s decision “to confirm if his office has met the prevailing wage obligations” recommended by Lewis, union secretary-treasurer Roland Rexha said in a statement on Thursday.
“Our dedicated Staten Island Ferry crew have worked an essential public transportation service for the City of New York without a labor contract or wage increase for 13 years (2009),” he said, adding that members “are grossly underpaid for the US Coast Guard license and pilot requirements onboard large volume vessels in our nation’s busiest harbor.”
City Hall spokesperson Jonah Allon noted “pivotal role” Staten Island Ferry’s MEBA members play “in safely transporting tens of thousands of daily commuters.”
“We are closely analyzing the comptroller’s determination, and look forward to continuing the mediation process with MEBA to work out a contract for these employees.”
13-Year Wait for Raise
The proposed raise would represent a significant bump for workers who have gone without one since their current collective bargaining agreement expired 13 years ago.
Lewis, the OATH judge, reached her decision after an eight-day trial last summer, during which the Adams administration argued that the crew’s engineers were entitled to the lower prevailing wage of HVAC operators and stationary engineers working in buildings. MEBA countered that the ferry system’s engineers were entitled to the higher pay set by U.S.-flag Maersk-Line Ltd. cargo ships, which are also represented by the union.
Lewis sided with the workers, ruling that the ferry system’s engineers and those on cargo ships should be bound by the same prevailing wage standards because the work and licensing requirements for the two “are identical.”
The decision is retroactive to November 2010, the year after Staten Island Ferry crews received their last raise.
The city cut back service on the Staten Island Ferry several times last summer because of understaffing. Adams at one point suggested crew members were engaging in an illegal sick-out, which the union denied.
Meanwhile, a 13-year battle for a new collective bargaining agreement for the ferry system’s roughly 100 crew and engineers remains unsettled. Last year, MEBA and the Adams administration agreed to mediate the contract dispute; those talks are ongoing.