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Staten Island Ferry Workers Agree to New Contract After 13-Year Wait

The Adams administration and the Marine Engineers Beneficial Association reached a tentative pact on long-awaited raises and overtime.

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A Staten Island Ferry captain navigates a boat into Lower Manhattan, Sept. 1, 2023.

Alex Krales/THE CITY

More than 100 Staten Island Ferry workers who have gone without a pay raise since 2009 on Monday announced a collective bargaining agreement with City Hall that guarantees them a hefty salary bump — and six-figure sums in back pay.

The 16-year agreement between the Marine Engineers’ Beneficial Association and the administration of Mayor Eric Adams guarantees an immediate 28.55% retroactive salary increase for the ferry system’s roughly 120 engineers, captains and mates. Ninety-four percent of workers approved the contract, which expires in January 2027.

According to sources with knowledge of the deal, in recent weeks the union and City Hall quietly hashed out the contract, which members were voting on through Friday.

It is an agreement 13 years in the making: Employees covered under the contract last received a raise in 2009. Since then, they have been cast adrift to the frustration and bewilderment of workers, local elected officials and Staten Island Ferry commuters facing service disruptions with little notice and labor shortages

It is the last of 152 contracts covering more than 300,000 municipal employees that had not been settled since Bill de Blasio became mayor in 2014 and its terms are retroactive to November 2010.

Adams inherited the labor stalemate from his predecessor’s predecessor, Michael Bloomberg, with City Hall and the union agreeing to enter mediation last August after a spate of worker absences repeatedly disrupted service.

Due to the length of the contract and the raises laid out in the prevailing wage decision — which will lift ferry workers up to the pay standards of the private sector — the deal is expected to cost the city $103 million over the life of the contract.

While Adams usually announces labor deals from the City Hall rotunda, he traveled by ferry to the St. George Terminal on Staten Island on Labor Day to make the announcement alongside MEBA secretary-treasurer Roland Rexha and other labor leaders with the Lower Manhattan skyline as a distant backdrop.

In a statement, Rexha commended the Adams administration for finally reaching a deal after two decades of the union and City Hall “sailing on separate courses.” 

“This achievement is due in part to having a mayor who truly values the hard work of our members and comprehends the challenges our mariners face day in and day out,” Rexha said. “Mayor Adams, a blue-collar mayor who gets things done, has been instrumental in making this contract a reality.”

“Today, we thank our tireless ferry workers, not just with words — but with a contract that delivers the fair wages and benefits they deserve,” Adams said in a statement. “Thanks to this agreement, both our ferry workers and the working people of Staten Island can continue to ride forward without worry or interruptions.”

An End to Delays?

The terms of the agreement largely stem from an August 2022 ruling by Judge Faye Lewis of the city’s Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings that the system’s marine engineers are entitled to the prevailing wage in the private sector. The mariners comprise roughly half of the ferry workers’ bargaining unit.

Lewis’ decision was referred to the city Comptroller’s office, which enforces prevailing wage standards for the municipal workforce. In March, city Comptroller Brad Lander ruled that the system’s marine engineers must receive approximately $300,000 per person in back pay, and chief engineers approximately $1.2 million per person.

But the union made some concessions to reach a final deal. The union agreed to distribute the raises laid out in the Comptroller’s award evenly to the entire bargaining unit; to increase the worker’s week to 40 hours up from the current 32, which is the standard set by the Coast Guard; and agreed to an overtime rate lower than the city-wide time-and-a-half standard.

Because of the prevailing wage decision, the mariners’ contract does not follow the pattern set by other municipal labor unions this year.

Adams said he is hopeful the deal will help stem a worker attrition crisis that routinely leads to delays. This summer, so many Staten Island Ferry workers signed up for a single-day civil service exam that their absences would have ground the whole system to a halt. The union successfully moved the city to reschedule the exam over the course of several days in September instead, Rexha told the Chief Leader last month.

Due to the labor shortages, many captains and mates currently work six to seven times a week for up to 12-hour shifts, Rexha told THE CITY last year

Marine engineers operate, design and maintain ships and below-deck infrastructure. U.S. Coast Guard standards require that two engineers be on duty while ferries are in service. A single absence forces a vessel to be grounded.

Many mariners are college-educated, with at least eight years of schooling and training under their belt before qualifying for the required licensing exams.

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