Staten Island Ferry Service Returns to Full Service After 2-Week Disruption Due to Understaffing, But Rolling Service Reductions Could Continue Without a New Contract
The Staten Island Ferry resumed full rush hour service on Wednesday after two weeks of reduced service caused by continued understaffing that the Marine Engineers’ Beneficial Association (MEBA) has been pushing the City to address for years, and not an uptick in COVID levels as the Department of Transportation had claimed. MEBA represents the captains, assistant captains, mates, chief engineers and marine engineers on the Ferry.
“COVID is not the issue at the ferry right now. The fact that DOT is saying it’s an issue is the larger issue. It’s actually the fact that we’re very shorthanded in all of our titles,” said Roland Rexha, MEBA Secretary-Treasurer and former shop steward at the Staten Island Ferry. The Ferry is currently short-staffed by approximately 15 workers in key operational positions, like assistant captains, engineers and oilers. Due to the small size of the existing workforce, it can be difficult to run full service whenever crew members are off, whether it be for planned vacations or unexpected illness.
“If you’re short one person in one of those titles it’s damning, but if you’re short three or four in a title like marine engineer that has 18 jobs, if you’re missing four people, you’re missing almost a quarter of your workforce,” Rexha said.
Filling the vacant positions has been a struggle due to a national shortage of qualified, professional mariners and low wages that haven’t increased in over a decade due to the city’s continued refusal since 2010 to provide a new, fair contract with higher compensation in line with what's offered for the same job titles in other parts of the country. The ongoing short-staffing (which the DOT recently acknowledged) has also forced existing crew members to work longer shifts without proper breaks, contributing to worker fatigue that could pose potential safety issues.
“We’re navigating some of the most heavily-trafficked waters in the country. The fact that they’re not getting proper breaks is a reason for employee fatigue, and it also burns people out and makes them want to leave the job,” Rexha added. Read more in the Staten Island Advance!