Staff shortages force more ferry cancellations

MUKILTEO, Wash. -- Just as the busy holiday season is getting underway, four more ferry runs were cancelled Monday morning due to staff shortages.

When a ferry gets canceled, as it did Monday morning in Mukilteo, it's as if one of the freeways shut down for an hour or so.

"You can miss appointments and stuff, but they're usually right on time," said ferry passenger Patto Carroll.

Officials say the cancellations were due to a crewman calling in sick. Ferry dispatchers then failed to properly dispatch a ready replacement, leaving vessels one crewman short.

Cancelled were the 5:10 a.m. and 6 a.m. sailings from Clinton, as well as the 5:35 a.m. and 6:30 a.m. runs from Mukilteo.

There have already been dozens of ferry cancellations this year, compared to only a handful last year.

The national president of the Inland Boatman's Union, Alan Cote, insists his workers aren't calling in sick as part of some labor protest.

"We've also informed our members to re-double our efforts to make sure they come to work on time," Cote said.

When a ferry is cancelled, there's a cascading effect. Thousands of workers throughout the Seattle area are late for work, and entire work site projects can slow or stop.

Monday also marked the first day of reduced runs to Bremerton because the king size ferry Walla Walla was damaged by a recent engine fire. The Edmonds-Kingston is also running with smaller vessels.

"Over the next few weeks, with the holidays, you maybe have to plan on being there an hour or two ahead. And if it gets canceled, then you're really gonna have a problem," said Mukilteo passenger Cale Ryder.

Union representatives will meet with ferry management on Wednesday to try to keep the staffing shortages from happening again.