This Labor Day holiday was perhaps the easiest weekend of the summer for Washington State Ferries, as fears of a crippling crew shortage came to naught.
Vessels served all 19 scheduled destinations throughout Puget Sound with zero sailings canceled, as of 3:50 p.m. Monday afternoon.
“Everybody showed up. It’s been our smoothest weekend in weeks,” said Ian Sterling, a spokesperson for the ferry system.
Just a few days ago, the ferry system warned travelers to expect delays because COVID-19 and quarantines were keeping crew home, aggravating chronic shortages resulting from a lack of qualified maritime workers and the state’s cumbersome crew-hiring system.
This weekend, dispatchers had little problem filling open shifts, Sterling said. “People really stepped up individually to come in and work; they gave up days off.”
And a rumored sickout, by staff opposed to Gov. Jay Inslee’s vaccination mandate, didn’t materialize. “You don’t want to call in sick on a day it would be extra scrutinized,” Sterling said.
Five maritime unions co-signed a memo last week with managers, urging workers to take their shifts.
“The unions collectively put the word out this [possible sickout] was a bad idea,” said Dan Twohig, regional representative for the International Organization of Masters, Mates & Pilots. “We don’t sanction that, and because it’s bad for commerce, that’s bad for everyone.”
Vehicle volumes were lower than usual, perhaps because of cloudy skies or last week’s travel warnings, Sterling added. Rider alerts showed only one dock, at Kingston, requiring an hourlong delay for drivers Monday afternoon.
There was just one set of cancellations, when the 62-year-old M/V Tillikum was stranded eight hours Monday in Friday Harbor by mechanical failure until valve parts arrived. And a pedestrian walkway at Bainbridge Island malfunctioned Monday, diverting walk-on riders to step aboard the car deck.
Nonetheless, shortages of boats and crew persist, including the idle ferry Wenatchee whose engines burned in April. Service to Sidney, B.C., the 20th ferry port, is delayed until 2022. The Coupeville-Port Townsend route is down to one boat. The Bremerton-Seattle route will decrease to one boat Tuesday when the M/V Kaleetan undergoes dry dock repairs until mid-October.
And another half-dozen or so workers have reportedly tested positive for COVID-19, in addition to five cases already documented in August, said Sterling.