SSA employees seek private audience with county leaders in the midst of contract talks
An effort by Island representatives of the Steamship Authority's (SSA) largest employee union to meet with members of the Dukes County commission in the Tisbury senior center last week fell apart at the doorway after commissioners learned it was to be a private get-together.
The overture to the county commissioners, the Vineyard boatline member's appointing authority, by the members of the Marine Engineers Beneficial Association (MEBA), comes as the union and SSA are locked in efforts, unsuccessful so far, to negotiate a new contract. The two sides remain far apart.
With no advance warning, yesterday approximately 50 MEBA members, descended on the Woods Hole terminal handing out leaflets and picketing the boatline headquarters. The union claims boatline management is unwilling to pursue federal funds the boatline badly needs, a charge management described as groundless and meant to distract attention form the real issues which are high labor costs.
Fred Raskin, SSA chief executive officer, has said he wants to bring SSA manning levels more in line with current transportation industry standards and Coast Guard requirements. Mr. Raskin points out that SSA labor costs now approach 67 percent of total operating costs,
Mr. Raskin, hired two years ago partly on the strength of his labor negotiating skills, last month signaled he may be preparing to leave the boatline amid continuing disagreements with members of the board.
Union representatives insisted the invitation to the county commissioners had nothing to do with the current contract negotiations or dissatisfaction with SSA policies and management.
"All these guys wanted to do," said Bill Campbell, "is say we are the SSA, and we live in your community."
According to Winn Davis, county manager, the invitation to Thursday's 5 pm get-together came in the form of a telephone calls from SSA employees and union members Sean Burke and Jay Gallagher.
As union members set out cold cuts and soft drinks, the county commissioners began to arrive. Paul Strauss, of Oak Bluffs, said he did not know who else was invited and had only been told the employees wanted to address some issues of concern, perhaps including safety issues.
Speaking with a Times' reporter outside the senior center, Lenny Jason of Chilmark said it was his impression it was a public informational meeting.