Bargaining News


June 4, 2024

Vinalhaven residents respond to recent cuts in ferry services and short staffing

Onstage, MSEA-SEIU members who serve as crew members for the Maine State Ferry Service join in a community forum with Vinalhaven Selectboard Member Leslie Dyer Tuesday night, June 4, at the Vinalhaven School Auditorium to discuss the impact of chronic understaffing and low pay at the Maine State Ferry Service.

Understaffing, low pay at Maine State Ferry Service are continuing to cause cancellations and delays

Over 60 residents of Vinalhaven attended a community meeting on Tuesday evening expressing concern about delays and interrupted ferry services and sharing support for the hardworking ferry crews on which Maine’s island communities rely.

Ferry crew members represented by the Maine Service Employees Association, Local 1989 of the Service Employees International Union (MSEA-SEIU Local 1989), also were in attendance on Tuesday to explain to residents how low pay from the state has made it extremely difficult to recruit and retain crews for ferry services.

“Wages in the ferry service aren’t competitive in the industry, leading to difficulty in hiring and retaining staff,” said MSEA-SEIU Member and Ferry Captain Dan McNichol of Rockland.

Another Ferry Captain, MSEA-SEIU Member Kevin Hopkins of Rockland, noted that crews get little time off during the busy summer months because of the lack of backups. “Maine State Ferry Service job postings mention work-life balance, but there are times when leave is denied due to short staffing and we miss out on family functions,” said Captain Hopkins.

In the past two years, these preventable staffing shortages have caused ferries to be canceled and terminals closed. This has left passengers missing medical appointments, cancer treatments and school sports. During these times, freight hasn’t gotten to the island communities, which interferes with the islanders and an economy that depends on an uninterrupted ferry service. Crews have had to work extra shifts to allow other coworkers to get to appointments and take vacation.

Community members expressed concern that ferry services could collapse unless the low pay is addressed by Gov. Janet Mills and the Maine Legislature.

“The Ferry Service struggles to hire and retain staff because of comparative low wages, and changes in available positions and challenges with schedule management exacerbate staffing issues,” said MSEA-SEIU Retiree Member Peter Drury, a former ferry captain of 26 years and a Vinalhaven resident.

Elaine Crossman and her neighbors on Vinalhaven have called on Ferry Service management to take action. “Unnecessary cancellations of ferry runs result in lost revenues to the Ferry Service in a time of rising costs and deficits, and have cost islanders time and money in lost ability to reasonably plan trips to and from the mainland,” Crossman said.

Members of MSEA-SEIU Local 1989 for years have been calling on state government to close what it calls the state employee pay gap – the difference between what State of Maine workers are paid compared to their public and private sector counterparts throughout Maine and New England.

Two state-commissioned studies, one in 2009 and the other in 2020, show that State of Maine workers are substantially underpaid compared to the wages earned by their public and private sector counterparts throughout Maine and New England. The 2020 study showed that on average, state workers are underpaid by 15 percent, and it’s even worse for many classifications – accountants are underpaid 20 to 33%; chemists, 24%; civil engineers, 20 to 25%; mechanics, 31%; and correctional officers, 16%.

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