March 23, 2011

The High Price of Vomit on Washington State Ferries

cascadia center staff

WA Ferry.png

Photo source: WSDOT

In a state fighting for its financial life (like most of its brethren), one might hope that seemingly reasonable attempts to tighten the spigot would be met with healthy appreciation. But here on the Northwest edge of the United States this week, one state senator's idea for cutting a few dollars from the ferry service budget has caused some ferry workers' stomachs to turn.
Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, a democrat who represents Camano Island, caught the ire of union workers this week because she doesn't think state workers should be paid extra (double, in fact) to clean-up passenger-provided bodily fluids that find their way to the boat deck. She wants to do away with the state's so-called "vomit clause."

Washington has an extensive (and expensive) ferry system, and Haugen has been looking for ways to trim its budget. But the "vomit clause," she told the Everett Herald "...really stuck in my craw." More Haugen:

"We certainly don't give overtime to some prison guard who cleans up after an inmate or someone working in a mental institution or even someone who worked caring for a person at their home and had to do an unpleasant task."

Ferry workers in the Evergreen State have been taking scandal-induced public relations hits across the organizational bow for some time. It's understandable they're sensitive to this latest image hit and say the issue is being misrepresented. According to the Everett Herald, they say the "extra pay only goes to those who work with dangerous material and hazardous substances. That means cleaning the bilges, pumping sewage -- and once in a while dealing with blood, feces and vomit."
Maybe so. But, but some of it still is.  As reported in Time, "Last year the state paid $1.65 million under the 50-year-old "penalty pay" clause to five different ferry-worker unions. And while very little was actually for vomit, any one of 21 situations induces penalty pay."
Amidst thoughts of sea sickness this week, the state's 2011-2013 transportation budget (which includes spending for ferries) is still being worked out in Olympia. Currently, both the House and Senate versions spend more on the ferry system than Washington's Governor Christine Gregoire proposed.
Just as it "sticks in the craw" of Sen. Haugen, questionable spending--whether on the ferry system's so-called "vomit clause" or elsewhere--should concern Washington taxpayers. In the meantime, for Washington taxpayers wanting to do their part to save the state some money, don't get sick on the ferry.
5:57 PM |
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